There are delays and there are delays. Gilbert Hyatt has been waiting two years to find out how the Nevada Supreme Court would rule on the (California) Franchise Tax Board’s appeal of his $500 million award. A decision in that case could come at any time (well, on any Thursday since that’s the day of the week that the Nevada Supreme Court releases decisions). But that two year delay is nothing compared to the delay in the original matter.
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Hyatt, he invented items related to microprocessors and semiconductors. (I’m sure my brother could give a much better description of this.) Back in 1991 (yes, this case goes that far back) he moved to Las Vegas; he knew he was soon going to get a large payment and Nevada’s state income tax rate–or better put, the lack thereof–appealed to him. The Franchise Tax Board (California’s income tax agency) said he didn’t move until sometime in 2012, conveniently after he received that payment. The FTB assessed tax and penalties. Mr. Hyatt appealed those.
Mr. Hyatt also argued that he had been subject to torts in Nevada and filed a lawsuit here in Las Vegas against the FTB in 1998. He alleged that the FTB had, among other things, rummaged through his garbage, visited business partners and doctors, and shared his social security number with the media. Bill Leonard (a former member of California’s Board of Equalization) said,
This is outrageous behavior and I call on the FTB to rein in their agents. What really galled me is the FTB testified in open court that this level of harassment was only a typical audit. If true, then the stormtroopers are alive and well at the FTB.
Mr. Hyatt’s case went up to the US Supreme Court. In 2003, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that his case could go forward. In 2008, the trial was held and the FTB lost. That’s the appeal that the Nevada Supreme Court heard in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hyatt’s audit was decided against him in 1996. If you lose at the FTB, you can appeal a case to the Board of Equalization (BOE). That’s what Mr. Hyatt did. In 2008, Mr. Hyatt thought his BOE appeal would be heard within two years. It still hasn’t been heard. So he filed another lawsuit.
He has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento accusing the FTB and BOE of depriving him of his constitutional rights. As noted in Dan Walters’ column,
“Without this court’s grant of relief that Hyatt seeks,” his suit says, “the FTB’s 20-plus-year vendetta to ‘get’ Hyatt will continue indefinitely and unabated in violation of Hyatt’s equal protection rights.”
It’s been nearly 23 years since Mr. Hyatt did (or didn’t) move out of California. It’s been 18 years since the FTB rules on his appeal and the case has been in the hands of the BOE. Yes, I’m sure California’s tax agencies have been moving with all possible speed….
Mr. Hyatt is 76. My suspicion is that the litigation between him and California’s tax agencies will last beyond his lifetime.