APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. CDV-2010-1074 Honorable Kathy Seeley, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael E Wheat
Submitted on Briefs: January 31, 2013
Justice Michael E Wheat delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 Larry Coleman (Coleman) appeals from the judgment of the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, affirming the State Tax Appeal Board's (STAB) conclusion that Coleman violated § 15-70-330, MCA. We affirm.
¶2 We review the following issue on appeal:
¶3 Did the District Court err by affirming STAB's determination that Coleman violated § 15-70-330, MCA, and that his truck is not entitled to a special exemption under Admin. R. M. 18.10.110(1) and (2)?
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
¶4 Coleman operates a cattle ranch near Charlo, Montana. On November 14, 2008, Coleman was driving his 1999 International Harvester truck on U.S. Highway 212 near Charlo. The truck had been modified with the addition of a feedbox, hoist and tailgate attached to it. The truck was not licensed or registered. Joseph Lavadure (Lavadure), a Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) Motor Carriers Officer, stopped Coleman and, with Coleman's permission, took a sample of the fuel in the tank of the vehicle and sent it to MDOT for analysis. The analysis showed the fuel sample was dyed diesel fuel and in excess of the legal concentration allowed to be in a fuel tank in a non-exempt vehicle being driven on a public highway. Coleman was cited for violating § 15-70-330, MCA.
¶5 Coleman requested a formal review of his citation. He argued his vehicle is designed for agricultural work and bears physical characteristics that render its primary use off-road and off-highway. Accordingly, he claimed that pursuant to Admin. R. M. 18.10.110(1) and (2), he is entitled to a special exemption from the prohibition against dyed fuel on the public roadways. MDOT countered that the vehicle is designed to transport persons or property on the public roads and highways and that its physical characteristics do not demonstrate it is intended for primary use in an off-road manner. MDOT thus argued that Coleman's vehicle does not meet any special exemptions that would allow it to use dyed diesel fuel on the public roads of Montana.
¶6 On December 8, 2009, a hearing was conducted by a hearing examiner appointed by MDOT. At the hearing, the parties presented exhibits, witness testimony, and arguments of their respective positions. Coleman admitted during testimony to placing untaxed dyed diesel fuel in his vehicle, and acknowledged that he was on a public road when stopped by Lavadure. He testified that he left his ranch land with his unloaded truck and drove on the public highway with the express purpose of driving into Charlo to pick up a load of corn and transport it back to his ranch. The corn was loaded into his truck from the railroad area in Charlo, and he drove the truck to another part of his ranch on public roads. Coleman testified that the only reason he was on the highway that day was to haul feed.
¶7 Coleman admitted the truck was originally designed for highway use, but maintained it was converted into a vehicle primarily used for farming purposes in an off-road capacity. Coleman offered photos of the truck to help explain its special modifications, which include a feedbox, hoist and tailgate. Coleman testified that he obtained the truck because of these modifications and only uses it for agricultural purposes on his ranch. He stated he uses the truck to haul dirt and feed for his cattle, but testified that it could also be used to haul grain or fertilizer if ...