Maine Court Imposes Taxes on Out-of-State (?) Driver
December 19, 2008
On June 13, 2006, driver Donna M. Hall was stopped by Maine police and issued a ticket for having Louisiana license plates. Like many other states, Maine requires that its residents obtain license plates from its state and pay the associated registration fees and excise taxes. Hall faced a fine of at least $500, plus the taxes and fees.
Hall denied she was a Maine resident and took her case all the way to the Maine Supreme Court. State of Maine v. Donna M. Hall, No. 2008-25899 (Nov. 25, 2008). Maine law states that a “resident” is either (1) someone who calls himself or herself a resident or (2) a domiciliary for at least 30 days. “Domicile” is a legal term which essentially means a person who resides in the state with the intent to remain in the state. A college student from another state, for instance, may reside in a state for years but is not a domiciliary of that state if he or she intends to return home after college. Determining where someone’s domicile is involves questioning their intent, relying on statements and other facts.
Another Maine law states that a person who enrolls a child in Maine schools is presumed to be a Maine resident, although that presumption can be rebutted with additional facts. This was the case with Hall, who argued that while she did enroll the child in Maine schools, she no longer had custody of the child so it shouldn’t reflect on her residency status. The state also argued that Hall has remained in Maine for two years.
Douglas Rooks of Tax Analysts reports that the hearing was lively, with Justice Donald Alexander telling Hall’s attorney, “Your client is still here after four years, thumbing her nose at Maine law.” Hall’s attorney later commented that this argument is circular: Hall intended to remain in Maine because she remained in Maine. (Rooks also notes that this case was an interesting example of circuit-riding, whereby courts hear cases while traveling around their jurisdiction.)
The state won the case and that’s a bit problematic. The fact that Hall remains in Maine today sheds no light on where her domicile is, or more importantly, where it was on June 13, 2006. Enrolling a kid in public school in 2005 may be one fact to consider, but the presumption only applies if the person has custody. The evidence of Hall’s intent is not conclusive, and we’re not really sure whether her domicile is in Maine or Louisiana. Assuming that Louisiana requires its domiciliaries to pay registration fees and license taxes, Hall may find herself double-taxed. And Maine has made it a bit easier to hit up non-residents for taxes, in violation of its laws, by twisting evidence standards.