Southern States Coop., Inc. v. Dailey

In Southern States Coop., Inc. v. Dailey, 167 W. Va. 920, 280 S.E.2d 821 (1981), the Tax Commissioner had assessed business and occupation tax against an agricultural cooperative association, Southern States Cooperative, Inc., based upon the transfer of goods from Southern States to its local affiliated cooperatives in West Virginia. Southern States acted as a central purchaser of goods for both its own chain of branch stores, as well as the local affiliated cooperatives, the latter of which were formed as separate legal entities under Virginia law. Southern States charged its local affiliates only the actual cost of the goods transferred, including overhead and other related expenses. Southern States responded to the tax assessment by arguing, inter alia, that it was not subject to tax because it was not engaged in a "business" within the meaning of W. Va. Code 11-13-1 (1972) (Repl. Vol. 1987), 8 which term was defined to include "all activities engaged in or caused to be engaged in with the object of gain or economic benefit, either direct or indirect." 167 W. Va. at 931, 280 S.E.2d at 827-28. The Tax Commissioner prevailed at the administrative level, but the decision was subsequently overturned in circuit court, with the lower court ruling that the profit-neutral transfers of goods to the local affiliates were not subject to tax because Southern States realized no profit from the transactions. The Court later reversed, giving the phrase, "gain or economic benefit" broad meaning: It cannot seriously be contended that Southern States derives no gain or economic benefit from its wholesale transactions with its affiliated cooperatives. It is true that the transfers of property from Southern States to its local cooperatives are made on an actual cost basis, and therefore Southern States derives no direct profit from the transaction. However, the statute here involved, W. Va. Code 11-13-1, does not refer to "profit", but to "gain or economic benefit." Gain or economic benefit is a much broader term than profit, see, e. g., Bonnar-Vawter, Inc. v. Johnson, 157 Me. 380, 173 A.2d 141 (1961); State v. Zellner, 133 Ohio St. 263, 13 N.E.2d 235 (1938), and includes the benefits Southern States receives from dealings with its cooperatives. (167 W. Va. at 931-32, 280 S.E.2d at 828.)