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State, Department of Revenue v. Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County

Supreme Court of Wyoming

January 15, 2019

STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Petitioner,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF JOHNSON COUNTY, Respondent.

          W.R.A.P. 12.09(b) Certification from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge

          Representing Petitioner: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; Ryan T. Schelhaas, Deputy Attorney General; Karl D. Anderson, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Devin T. Kenney, Assistant Attorney General.

          Representing Respondent: Tucker Ruby, Johnson County Attorney, Buffalo, Wyoming; Barry V. Crago, Johnson County Civil Deputy Attorney, Buffalo, Wyoming.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE, [*] FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ., and PEASLEY, D.J.

          PEASLEY, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         [¶1] Johnson County, through the Johnson County Fair Board, provides sixty-nine (69) camp spots at the Johnson County Fairgrounds for use during the annual Johnson County Fair and Rodeo. For each campsite, the County charges $25.00 per week and does not collect any sales or lodging taxes. The Department of Revenue (Department) determined the use of these campsites was subject to sales and lodging taxation, and the Board of Equalization (Board) reversed. The Board determined the campsites and rent received therefrom were not subject to taxation because the Fair Board was not a "vendor" as defined by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-15-101(a)(xv). The Department appealed this decision to the district court, and we accepted certification of the appeal from the district court. We will affirm.

         ISSUE

         [¶2] We address the following issue: Did the Board of Equalization commit error by finding that the Johnson County Fair Board charging rent for campsites during the Johnson County Fair and Rodeo was not a taxable event?

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEEDINGS

         [¶3] Johnson County has sixty-nine (69) campsite locations that are used by the Johnson County Fairgrounds. The Fair Board rents these campsites annually and charges campers $25.00 for use during the week of fair. These campsites have historically been made available to fair exhibitors or their families. In 2016, the Johnson County Tourism Association inquired of the Department whether lodging taxes must be collected for the use and rental of these campsites. In response, the Department issued a determination finding the Fair Board was a non-exempt lodging vendor required to obtain a Wyoming Sales/Use Tax License and statutorily obligated to collect and remit sales and lodging taxes for the campsite rentals. The Department assessed the County $113.75 for the uncollected taxes in 2016, representing the unpaid taxes for the week-long use of the sixty-five (65) campsites.

         [¶4] On appeal, the Board analyzed: (1) whether the camping fee was a user fee for county-owned recreational facilities and therefore exempt from excise taxes, and (2) whether the Department met its burden of proof to show that the Fair Board qualified as a vendor, as defined by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-15-101(a)(xv), and thereby obligated to impose a tax on campsite users under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-15-103(c). The Board concluded the Fair Board was not exempt from imposing sales and lodging taxes under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-15-105(a)(iv)(E), but that the Fair Board was not a vendor. Because the Department failed to meet its burden of proof to show the Fair Board was a vendor, the Board concluded that the Fair Board was not obligated to impose a tax on the fees charged for the use of the campsites.

         DISCUSSION

         [¶5] Wyoming law imposes a sales tax on the "sales price paid for living quarters in hotels, motels, tourist courts and similar establishments providing lodging service for transient guests," unless a statutory exemption applies. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-15-103(a)(i)(G) (LexisNexis 2015). We have long recognized that "[t]here is a presumption created against granting exceptions and in favor of taxation." State Board of Equalization v. Tenneco Oil Co., 694 P.2d 97, 100 (Wyo. 1985). Accordingly, the burden of establishing an exemption is on the one claiming it. PacifiCorp, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue, State, 2017 WY 106, ¶ 11, 401 P.3d 905, 909 (Wyo. 2017) (citing Commissioners of Cambria Park v. Board of County Comm'rs of Weston County, 62 Wyo. 446, 174 P.2d 402, 405 (1946)).

         [¶6] However, in proceedings involving the question of whether there is a taxable event that triggers the obligation to impose a tax "the Petitioner shall have the burden of going forward and the Department shall have the ultimate burden of ...


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