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Salt Lake County v. State of Utah

Salt Lake County v. State of Utah, 2020 UT 27 (Durrant, C.J.)

Procedure

The Utah Legislature amended portions of Utah’s tax code that established the methodology for determining the property tax obligations of airlines operating within the state. Several counties sued the State, arguing that the amended provisions violated the Utah Constitution. After the State filed a motion to dismiss, the district court dismissed all the counties’ claims because they were either unripe or failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

  • The district court properly dismissed as unripe the counties’ claims relating to the threshold law, Utah Code § 59-2-1007. The threshold law bars counties from challenging a tax commission’s property tax assessments unless counties reasonably believe the tax commission’s assessment has undervalued property by at least 50 percent. Here, the counties failed to plead that their right to challenge a tax assessment had been violated pursuant to the threshold law or that they intended to challenge a tax assessment that would be barred by the threshold law. The counties’ claims challenging the threshold law were premised on a merely hypothetical state of facts. Because the counties’ challenge to the threshold law in their complaint was framed only by hypothetical facts, their challenge is unripe. 
  • The district court did not err when it refused to consider matters outside the complaint when ruling on the State’s motion to dismiss under Utah R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The State argued for dismissal because the complaint lacked sufficient factual allegations. In this circumstance, the district court did not need to consider any materials outside the pleadings. 
  • The counties’ remaining constitutional challenges are abstract questions or requests for advisory opinions. The counties merely made allegations about the unconstitutionality of the statutes without tying those allegations to concrete facts. Because courts do no answer abstract questions or issue advisory opinions, the Court does not reach the counties’ remaining arguments.

Read the full court opinion

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