California LLC fee again held invalid
Ventas Finance I LLC v. Calif. FTB, Cal. Ct. App., Dkt. Nos. A116277; A117751, 08/11/2008
The California Court of Appeal once again has ruled invalid the state fee imposed on limited liability companies (LLCs) under former Rev. & Tax. Cd. § 17942 (the “§ 17942 fee”). Affirming the lower court, the Appeal Court held that the § 17942 fee as applied to Ventas, an LLC that conducted business in California and other states, was not fairly apportioned and, therefore, violated the Commerce Clause because the levy was based on total income without apportionment to income attributable to, or derived from, California sources. The court rejected the Franchise Tax Board’s (FTB’s) request for judicial reformation of the former statute to allow an apportioned fee refund since Ventas did business in California and other states unlike in the earlier Northwest case (that held the fee invalid) where the LLC conducted no California business. However, the court concluded that neither federal due process nor any principle of California law requires the FTB to refund the entire amount that Ventas paid. Consequently, the refund should be limited to the amount Ventas paid for the years in issue that exceeds the amount that would have been assessed, without violating the Commerce Clause, using a method of fair apportionment. The postjudgment order awarding attorney fees was also reversed, and remanded for the lower court to redetermine eligibility and the amount of reasonable fees in light of the partial reversal of the lower court’s judgment.