The right to collect unpaid taxes prescribes on December 31, three years from the year the tax was due. La. Const. art. VII, sec. 16. Likewise a taxpayer’s right to claim a refund for taxes paid expires on December 31 three years from the year the taxes were remitted. R.S. 47:337.79. For example, both the right to collect, or obtain a refund of, 2009 sales taxes would prescribe December 31, 2012.
The filing of a refund claim before the December 31 prescriptive date, interrupts the running of prescription as to the refund. The Louisiana Third Circuit held the filing of the claim did not, however, interrupt or suspend prescription for the purposes of collecting unpaid taxes. Cajun Industries, LLC v. Vermilion Parish School Board, Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit, No. 14-22, May 14, 2014.
In Cajun, the taxpayer filed a refund claim for sales taxes in December 2010 for the tax periods 2007, 2009 and 2010. It filed second refund claim in 2011 for the tax periods 2010 – 2011. The collector denied most of the refund claim and the taxpayer appealed the denial in district court in May 2013.
In response to the taxpayer’s suit, the collector asserted that it had the right to offset any unpaid taxes against the refund and asked that it be allowed to audit the taxpayer to see if, in fact, there were any unpaid taxes for the years 2007 – 2011. The Third Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the taxpayer’s refund claim did not interrupt the running of prescription as to the collector’s right to collect taxes. The filing of a suit did, however, interrupt the running of such prescription pursuant to R.S.47:337.67. Accordingly at the time the suit was filed May 2013, any right to collect unpaid taxes for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 had already prescribed while the 2010 and 2011 tax periods were still open.
While this holding will affect taxpayers with pending refund claims, its effect may be short lived since there is a bill pending in the Legislature, which would amend the law such that the filing of a refund claim would suspend the running of prescription. See H.B. 863, pg. 11. H.B. 863 is scheduled for floor debate on May 21, 2014.