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California Cities and Counties are Poised to Substantially Increase Assessment of Documentary Transfer Taxes on Stock Transfers in Corporate Entities

In an opinion handed down on June 29th, the California Supreme Court held that notwithstanding the legislature's decision against localities imposing excise taxes on transfers in ownership of stock, it did, however, intend for localities to impose documentary transfer taxes on stock transfers in property-holding entities. In particular, the Court held that Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code §§ 64(c) and (d) applied to transfers for consideration resulting in more than 50% ownership of voting stock in any partnership, LLC, or other entity where the stock transfer effectively changes the owner of the beneficial interest in real property. Unless the stock transfers concern an entity federally-taxed as a partnership and the transfer does not result in a technical termination of that partnership, a city or county is empowered to ignore the corporate form, reassess the underlying real property, and impose documentary transfer taxes for every property held therein. While documentary transfer taxes can be de minimis in amount in cases concerning an individual property, this decision could have a substantial impact on the purchase of large entities, both in and out of bankruptcy. Practitioners who oversee the purchase and sale of business concerns should take note that cities and counties are poised to assert documentary transfer taxes on a range of stock transactions in the future. A copy of the published opinion 926 North Ardmore Avenue, LLC v. County of Los Angeles is available by hyperlink here.

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