The State Tax Commissioner assessed $111,389 in additional North Dakota corporate income and business privilege taxes, interest, and penalties against International Minerals & Chemical Corporation [IMC]
The facts are undisputed. Inasmuch as only questions of law are involved, the Commissioner's decision is fully reviewable by this court. Grant Farmers Mutual v. State by Conrad, 347 N.W.2d 324, 327 (N.D.1984).
I. Mileage Credits
IMC produces fertilizers and chemicals which it distributes throughout the United States and several foreign countries. IMC ships some of its products by rail. For part of its rail shipments, IMC leases or purchases its own railroad cars, which are then hauled by the rail carriers. IMC has a fleet of 600 private railroad cars and leases an additional 2,500 railroad cars from private carline companies. IMC leases railroad cars two ways: Under a "full service lease," the owner is responsible for all maintenance and upkeep, while under a "net lease" IMC has this responsibility.
Rail carriers must compensate shippers, such as IMC, who supply the freight cars to transport their products. See 49 U.S.C. § 11122.
Because IMC conducts its business within and without North Dakota, its business income is apportioned to this state by using the three-factor formula (property, payroll, and sales) prescribed in UDITPA, Chapter 57-38.1, N.D.C.C. The property factor is computed by dividing the average value of real and tangible property owned and rented by the taxpayer in this state during the tax year by the average value of all real and tangible property owned and rented by the taxpayer during the tax year. § 57-38.1-10, N.D.C.C. Section 57-38.1-11, N.D.C.C., spells out the property valuation method:
This "mileage credit" issue concerns valuation of leased cars for the property factor. In valuing leased cars for its property factor, IMC deducted mileage credits from the annual rentals paid before capitalizing at eight times the "net annual rental rate." The Commissioner disallowed the deduction for mileage credits. The district court upheld IMC's method of computation, concluding that mileage credits were deductible "subrentals" under the statute.
In this court, IMC concedes that the mileage credits are not "subrentals" within the meaning of § 57-38.1-11, N.D.C.C. We agree.
The word "subrental" is not defined in Chapter 57-38.1, N.D.C.C., and we must therefore look to its commonly understood meaning. Section 1-02-02, N.D.C.C.; Wills v. Schroeder Aviation, Inc., 390 N.W.2d 544, 545-546 (N.D.1986). "Subrent" is "rent from a subtenant." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 2278 (1971). A "subtenant" is "one who leases all or a part of the rented premises from the original lessee for a term less than that held by the latter." Black's Law Dictionary 1282 (5th ed. 1979). Thus, under the statute, subrentals are the payments a subtenant makes to the original lessee.
The mileage credits paid by rail carriers do not fit this definition. IMC does not sublease the railroad cars to the rail carriers. Rather, third parties lease the cars to IMC which, in turn, pays the rail carriers to haul the cars to transport IMC products. The mileage credits are not paid pursuant to any sublease agreement, but are a carrier's rebates to a shipper mandated by federal law. Thus, the mileage credits are not subrentals.
IMC asserts that the mileage credits can nevertheless be deducted because they reduce IMC's cost of leasing a railroad car and because the "net annual rental rate" under § 57-38.1-11, N.D.C.C., must be its net monetary cost. It is the actual rental expense, rather than the gross rental rate, that IMC uses to determine whether to enter into a particular lease with a carline company, and thus, IMC contends, it is the appropriate amount to be capitalized to determine the value of a car. IMC relies upon decisions from other jurisdictions, none of which were decided under the UDITPA property factor provision, for the propositions that capitalization of rentals is an accepted method for valuation of leased property, and that it is always net rentals that are to be capitalized.
We might agree with IMC's argument if the term "net annual rental rate" was not defined by the statute. For Chapter 57-38.1, however, "net annual rental rate" means "the annual rental rate paid by the taxpayer less any annual rental rate received by the taxpayer from subrentals." § 57-38.1-11, N.D.C.C. A statutory definition which declares what a term means excludes any meaning that is not stated. 2A Sutherland Statutory Construction § 47.07 at p. 133 (4th ed. 1984); Hermanson v. Morrell, 252 N.W.2d 884, 888 (N.D. 1977); and § 1-02-03, N.D.C.C. It is thus apparent that the term "net annual rental rate" is not used in its ordinary sense and that the statute does not equate value for property factor purposes with actual value of the property to the taxpayer. As the drafters of UDITPA observed:
Comment to § 11, Uniform Division of Income for Tax Purposes Act, 7A U.L.A. 331, 350 (1985).
Under the statutory definition, only subrentals may be deducted from the annual rental rate to arrive at the net annual rental rate capitalized for property factor purposes. Because mileage credits required by law to be paid by rail carriers are not subrentals, we agree with the Commissioner that IMC cannot deduct mileage credits in calculating its net annual rental rate of leased railroad cars capitalized for computing the value of its property for use as one factor to apportion its business income for state taxation.
II. Foreign Dividend "Gross-Up"
In computing its federal income tax liability, a corporate taxpayer which pays income tax to a foreign country may either deduct the tax paid to the foreign country under I.R.C. § 164(a)(3) or credit that amount under I.R.C. § 901 against its tax liability. While § 901 provides a credit for foreign taxes a corporation actually paid, I.R.C. § 902 additionally allows a domestic corporation, owning at least ten percent of the voting stock of a foreign subsidiary from which it receives a dividend, a derivative credit for the foreign income taxes paid by its foreign subsidiary on its accumulated profits. In effect, under § 902 the domestic corporation is "deemed" to have paid a portion of the foreign taxes actually paid or accrued by the foreign subsidiary. See B. Bittker and J. Eustice, Federal Income Taxation of Corporations and Shareholders ¶ 17.11 (4th ed. 1979); 34 Am.Jur.2d Federal Taxation ¶ 8412 (1987).
If a corporate taxpayer elects to take the § 902 "deemed paid" foreign tax credit rather than the deduction, I.R.C. § 78 requires that the domestic corporation add to its gross income the amount of the "deemed paid" foreign taxes. This amount, commonly referred to as "gross-up," is treated under § 78 as a "dividend" received by the domestic corporation from the foreign subsidiary. See B. Bittker and J. Eustice, supra.
The purpose of the "gross-up" provision was to eliminate "an unjustified tax advantage" for domestic corporations choosing to conduct foreign business through the use of subsidiaries rather than unincorporated branches. S.Rep. No. 1881, 87th Cong.2d Sess., reprinted in 1962 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News 3304, 3368. Prior to Congress's adoption of § 78, a domestic corporation, in effect, received both a deduction and a credit for its foreign subsidiary's foreign taxes because they served the dual function of reducing the amount of dividend taxable to the parent corporation and of constituting a credit against the parent's federal taxes on that dividend. See B. Bittker and J. Eustice, supra. The effect of § 78 was to increase the overall tax rate on foreign dividend income received by a domestic corporation and to more closely equalize the tax burden on the use of subsidiaries and branches. See B. Bittker and J. Eustice, supra; S.Rep. No. 1881, supra. Nevertheless, it generally remains more advantageous for a domestic corporation to elect the "deemed paid" foreign tax credit than to take a deduction since a deduction from income serves only to cut taxable income while the credit reduces dollar for dollar the actual federal tax due. See 34 Am.Jur.2d Federal Taxation ¶ 8419 (1987).
During the years involved here, IMC received dividends from foreign subsidiaries that paid foreign taxes. IMC elected to take the federal "deemed paid" foreign tax credit and therefore was required to include the "gross-up" amount in its income for federal tax purposes. Under North Dakota law, federal taxable income is the simplified starting point for computing state income tax. See §§ 57-38-01(8) and
IMC asserts that F.W. Woolworth Co. v. Taxation and Revenue Department of New Mexico, 458 U.S. 354, 102 S.Ct. 3128, 73 L.Ed.2d 819 (1982), holds a state cannot constitutionally tax the foreign dividend "gross-up." F.W. Woolworth Co. held that New Mexico lacked power under the due process clause to tax actual dividends Woolworth received from four of its foreign subsidiaries because Woolworth and its subsidiaries were not engaged in a unitary business relationship. The Court found insufficient evidence of the three "`factors of profitability' arising `from the operation of the business as a whole'" which "evidence the operation of a unitary business": "`functional integration, centralization of management, and economies of scale.'" F.W. Woolworth Co., supra, 458 U.S. at 364, 102 S.Ct. at 3135, 73 L.Ed. 2d at 828 [quoting Mobil Oil Corp. v. Commissioner of Taxes, 445 U.S. 425, 438, 100 S.Ct. 1223, 1232, 63 L.Ed.2d 510, 521 (1980)]. About foreign dividend "gross-up" amounts which New Mexico had also sought to include in Woolworth's apportionable tax base, the Court said:
F.W. Woolworth Co. is not controlling here. The Supreme Court did not hold that it is always unconstitutional for a state to tax "gross-up" dividends, but only that a state could not tax "gross-up" dividends, just as it could not tax actual dividends, where the foreign subsidiaries had no unitary business relationship with the state. That is not the situation here. IMC does not contest the State's taxation of actual dividends it received from foreign subsidiaries and concedes that its foreign subsidiaries had a unitary business relationship with the State.
IMC claims that it makes no difference whether a unitary business relationship exists, because "it is the fictitious character of the gross-up which offends due process." IMC also contends that if the
We cannot accept IMC's argument that inclusion of the "gross-up" amount, without recognizing an offsetting adjustment for state tax purposes, is a violation of IMC's due process rights. Several courts, although not directly deciding the question on constitutional due process grounds, have recognized that a state may require corporations to include "gross-up" income without any offsetting adjustments in calculating state tax liability. See Ex Parte Kimberly-Clark Corp., 503 So.2d 304 (Ala. 1987); Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Lenckos, 77 Ill.App.3d 90, 395 N.E.2d 1167 (1979), aff'd, 84 Ill.2d 102, 49 Ill.Dec. 329, 417 N.E.2d 1343 (1981), appeal dismissed sub nom. Chicago Bridge & Iron Company v. Caterpillar Tractor Company, 463 U.S. 1220, 103 S.Ct. 3562, 77 L.Ed.2d 1402 (1983); Comptroller v. NCR Corp., 71 Md.App. 116, 524 A.2d 93 (1987), cert. granted, 310 Md. 275, 528 A.2d 1287 (1987).
In this case, it is conceded that IMC's foreign subsidiaries had a unitary business relationship with IMC and North Dakota. Therefore, the due process clause does not preclude North Dakota from taxing actual dividends IMC received from its foreign subsidiaries. See F.W. Woolworth Co., supra; Mobil Oil Corp., supra. Having elected the benefit of the § 902 "deemed paid" foreign tax credit, IMC in effect chose not to deduct the foreign taxes paid by its foreign subsidiaries but to instead treat them as "dividends" and therefore "gross income" for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code. We do not believe due process requires that IMC be freed from this choice for state tax purposes. "The propriety of a deduction does not turn upon general equitable considerations ... [but] `depends upon legislative grace; and only as there is clear provision therefor can any particular deduction be allowed.'" Commissioner v. National Alfalfa Dehydrating & Milling Co., 417 U.S. 134, 149, 94 S.Ct. 2129, 2137, 40 L.Ed.2d 717 (1974) [quoting New Colonial Ice Co. v. Helvering, 292 U.S. 435, 440, 54 S.Ct. 788, 790, 78 L.Ed. 1348 (1934) ]. Because North Dakota does not statutorily recognize a deduction for § 78 "gross-up" income, IMC may not exclude the "gross-up" from the amount of federal taxable income reported on its state income tax return.
Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is reversed.
ERICKSTAD, C.J., and LEVINE and GIERKE, JJ., concur.
VANDE WALLE, J., concurs in result.