Spiderman just got good news about his tax collector.A Los Angeles Superior Court judge yesterday ruled that the State Board of Equalization will have to refund nearly $6 million in sales and use taxes to Marvel Prods. Ltd. for taxes assessed to animation work that Marvel had contracted in Korea during the 1980s. The judgment is significant on a number of fronts–most notably because, if this ruling holds up on appeal, it distinguishes animation and special effects as separate categories for state taxing purposes. This would only apply to taxes levied prior to 1988, since the law changed that year and made animation and special effects categories exempt from sales and use taxes. “There are a series of definitions or pigeonholes in which the state puts motion picture activities,” said C. Dennis Loomis of Hill Wynne Troop & Meisinger, the attorney who represented Marvel. “In this case, the state determined that the work Marvel had contracted out should be classified under special effects, which were taxable prior to 1988.” Yesterday’s ruling would separate animation and special effects. At this point, the ruling stands at the trial court level and does not set legal precedent. Yet it leads the way for other animation companies to sue the state for back taxes on similar grounds. Judge Philip M. Saeta’s ruling also limits the discretion of the State Board of Equalization in its determinations. The back taxes Marvel paid were from 1982-87, during which time Marvel was doing such shows as “Spiderman and Friends,””Captain America,””Bigfoot,””Mighty Thor,””Transformers” and “Muppet Babies,” among others. “No one would argue that sometimes animation techniques are used to create special effects,” Loomis said. “But when you’re talking about an entire production that is animated, that is not a special effect.” The state had initiated these tax regs in the late 1980s to stop the flow of filming work that was moving out of California.
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