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Chadwick-Baross, Inc. v. City of Westbrook

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 10, 2015

CHADWICK-BAROSS, INC., Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF WESTBROOK and ELIZABETH SAWYER, Defendants

ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Nancy Mills Justice.

In its complaint, plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment [1] that defendants' tax assessments on certain equipment owned by plaintiff are unlawful. Plaintiff and defendants filed cross motions for partial summary judgment on count I of the complaint in which plaintiff alleges that the personal property at issue is exempt from taxation as "stock-in-trade" under 36 MJSJS, § 655(1)(B) (2014). For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted and plaintiff's motion is denied.

FACTS

The facts are largely undisputed. In an effort to adhere strictly to the requirements of M.R, Civ. P. 56, the court will separately analyze the parries' statements of fact and draw inferences in favor of the non-moving party for each motion. See F.R. Carroll, Inc. v. TD Bank, N.A., 2010 ME 115, ¶ 8, 8 A.3d 646 ("We analyze each motion separately, giving the opposing party the benefit of any reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the presented facts.").

Plaintiff's Motion

The following facts are presented in a light most favorable to the defendants. Plaintiff Chadwick-Baross, Inc. is a Maine corporation with a principal place of business in the City of Westbrook. (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 1.) Defendant Elizabeth Sawyer is the Tax Assessor for the City of Westbrook. (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 3.) In December 2012, defendants made a supplemental tax assessment of plaintiff's personal property and issued plaintiff a supplemental tax bill for $27, 488.52. (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 4.) The assessed personal property includes various items of heavy machinery, including wheel loaders, a hauler, and a skid steer. (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 6.) In July 2013, defendants made a regular assessment of the same equipment and other items of plaintiff's personal property and issued plaintiff a regular tax bill for $26, 790.72. (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 7-9.)

As part of plaintiff's business, it offered potential buyers the opportunity to test and evaluate equipment, including the assessed property, prior to purchasing it. (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 12.) These potential buyers were required to sign plaintiff's standard "Equipment Rental Agreement" before testing the equipment. (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶13.) The rental agreement states: "Chadwick-Baross has the right to exchange the Equipment at any time for Equipment of equal capacity at no additional expense to Customer. If Customer has an option to purchase, that option, if not exercised, will lapse concurrent with the exchange." (Pl.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶15.)

Defendants' Motion

In addition to plaintiff's facts, defendants submit the following facts in support of their own motion for summary judgment, which are presented in a light most favorable to plaintiff. Under the terms of plaintiff's rental agreement, the equipment was required to be located at all times at the customer's job site and was not to be removed without plaintiff's prior written consent. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 6.) There is no dispute that 12 items of equipment were "in the hands of customers"[2] under the rental agreement on the assessment date of April 1, 2012. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 8, as qualified by Pl.'s Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 8.)

On May 22, 2012, defendant Sawyer sent a letter to plaintiff pursuant to 36 M.R.S. § 706 and requested a list of all equipment it owned that was out on lease on April 1, 2012. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 12.) Defendant Sawyer never received a written response to her letter from plaintiff. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 13.) On October 22, 2012, defendant Sawyer sent a similar letter and requested the same information. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 14.) On November 9, 2012, defendant Sawyer received a letter from Stuart Welch, plaintiff's President, stating plaintiff's view that the equipment was exempt stock-in-trade. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 16.) In his letter, Mr. Welch listed the twelve pieces of equipment but did not provide any information about the value or age of any of the listed equipment. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 16-17.) As a result, defendant Sawyer sent another letter to plaintiff requesting additional information about the ages and values of the equipment. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 17.) After receiving no response, defendant Sawyer issued a supplemental assessment and tax bill to plaintiff in the amount of $27, 488.52 for personal property taxes for the tax year ending June 30, 2013. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 18.)

A similar sequence played out for the tax year ending June 30, 2014. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 22-26.) Defendant Sawyer requested information, plaintiff failed to respond, and defendant Sawyer issued a tax bill for $26, 790.72. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 22-27.)

DISCUSSION

1. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is appropriate if the record reflects that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Dussault v. RRE Coach Lantern Holdings, LLC, 2014 ME 8, ¶ 12, 86 A.3d 52 (quoting F.R. Carroll, Inc. v. TD Bank, N.A., 2010 ME 115, ¶ 8, 8 A.3d 646). "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case, and there is a genuine issue when there is sufficient evidence for a. fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the fact." McIlroy v. Gibson's Apple Orchard, 2012 ME 59, ¶ 7, 43 A.3d 948 (quoting N. E. Ins. Co. v. Young, 2011 ME 89, 117, 26 A.3d 794). "Even when one party's version of the facts appears more credible and persuasive to the court, any genuine factual dispute must be resolved through fact-finding, regardless of the nonmoving party's likelihood of success." Lewis v. Concord Gen. Mut. Ins. Co., 2014 ME 34, ¶ 10, 87 A.3d 732. If facts are undisputed but nevertheless capable of supporting conflicting, plausible ...


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