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Mobile Imaging v. City of Portland
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT Reporter of Decisions
Decision: 1998 ME 15
Docket: Cum-97-310
Argued: November 14, 1997
Decided: January 20, 1998

Panel:WATHEN, C.J., and ROBERTS, RUDMAN, DANA, LIPEZ, and SAUFLEY, JJ.





MOBILE IMAGING CONSORTIUM

v.

CITY OF PORTLAND et al.


ROBERTS, J.

[¶1] The City of Portland appeals from the judgment entered in the
Superior Court (Cumberland County, Brennan, J.) vacating the decision of
the Portland Board of Assessment Review that two of Mobile Imaging
Consortium's mobile magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) units were not
"professional apparatuses" pursuant to 36 M.R.S.A. § 603(2)(D) (1990) and
were therefore taxable to Mobile Imaging by the municipality where its
principal place of business is located pursuant to 36 M.R.S.A. § 602 (1990).{1}
We affirm the judgment.
[¶2] Mobile Imaging Consortium is a limited partnership with its
principal place of business in Portland. It leases a mobile MRI unit (the
Norway unit) from a nonresident corporation. On April 1 of the 1993, 1994,
and 1995 tax years, the unit was located in the town of Norway. In 1993
Mobile Imaging purchased a mobile unit (the Sanford unit), and on April 1,
1993, that unit was located in the town of Sanford. Mobile Imaging paid the
taxes that were assessed against the units by the towns of Norway and
Sanford. The City of Portland made a supplemental assessment for personal
property taxes against the Sanford unit for the 1993 tax year and against the
Norway unit for the 1993, 1994, and 1995 tax years. Those taxes were paid
in full. The City's assessor denied Mobile Imaging's subsequent request for
an abatement. Mobile Imaging appealed that decision to the Portland Board
of Assessment Review (the Portland Board). That appeal was also denied.
Mobile Imaging then appealed the Portland Board's decision to the State
Board of Property Tax Review (the State Board).
[¶3] At the hearing before the State Board, the manager of Mobile
Imaging testified that the equipment used in the scanner can function only
as a unit. Each year Mobile Imaging notifies the town in which the scanner
is situated on April 1 and pays the taxes assessed against the property. The
State Board dismissed Mobile Imaging's appeal for lack of jurisdiction
because the case involved questions of law and not fact. Pursuant to 36
M.R.S.A. § 271(7) (1990), Mobile Imaging appealed to the Superior Court.
[¶4] In April 1997 the court determined that the State Board had
jurisdiction to hear the matter, but held that because there were no factual
disputes involved, the court, in the interest of judicial economy, would
resolve the matter. The court determined that a mobile MRI unit is a
"professional apparatus" and vacated the decision of the Portland Board.
Because it was unnecessary for its decision, the court did not address
whether Portland could tax the Norway unit, the property of a nonresident
corporation. Mobile Imaging and the City filed a joint motion for the entry
of a final judgment pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 54(b). The motion was granted
in May 1997, and the City then appealed.
[¶5] Although in its brief the City argued that the mobile MRI units
were not "professional apparatuses," it conceded at oral argument that the
units are within the purview of the plain and ordinary meaning of the term
"professional apparatuses." Nevertheless, it asserted that the Legislature
never envisioned that the term "professional apparatus" would include
mobile and complex machinery similar to the units in question. It contends
that a less conscientious taxpayer could fail to inform the town in which the
mobile unit is located on April 1 and thereby avoid paying taxes on the
property. The City invites us to look beyond the clear and unambiguous
language of the statute and conclude that the mobile MRI units are not
"professional apparatuses." We decline the invitation.
The entry is:
Judgment affirmed.


Attorney for plainitff:

Kurt E. Olafsen, Esq., (orally)
Olafsen & Butterfield
P O Box 130
Portland, ME 04112

Attorney for defendant:

Charles A. Lane, Esq., (orally)
Associate Corporation Counsel
City of Portland
389 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101

FOOTNOTES******************************** {1}. 36 M.R.S.A. § 602 (1990) provides: "All personal property within or without the State, except in cases enumerated in section 603, shall be taxed to the owner in the place where he resides." 36 M.R.S.A. § 603(2)(D) (1990) provides that "professional libraries, apparatus, implements and supplies" should be taxed in the place where situated.