Utah State Tax Commission v Delta Air Lines Inc 2023 UT 24

Utah State Tax Commission v Delta Air Lines Inc 2023 UT 24

This is a brief Utah Supreme Court Case Update as of November 9, 2023.

You can read the full opinion here at the Utah Supreme Court’s website.

I wanted to give you a quick update on a recent opinion that was issued by the Utah Supreme Court on November 9, 2023. The case is Salt Lake County v. Utah State Tax Commission and the citation of this case is 2023 U T 24.

In this case, the Utah Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s Aircraft Valuation Law for assessing the taxable value of airline fleets. Salt Lake County had challenged Delta Air Line’s 2018 property tax assessment, arguing that the valuation method prescribed by the Aircraft Valuation Law resulted in an undervaluation compared to the aircraft’s fair market value. However, the Court ruled that the County failed to properly avail itself of the statutory mechanism that would have allowed the use of an alternative valuation method. Because the County did not provide sufficient evidence showing that the statutory method was unconstitutional as applied to Delta’s fleet, the Court declined to override the legislatively prescribed methodology for aircraft valuation. The Court affirmed the Commission’s application of the Aircraft Valuation Law and its original assessed value of Delta’s fleet.

Here are facts, issues, arguments, reasoning, and holding of the court.


Delta owns aircraft operating in Utah. The Tax Commission used the Aircraft Valuation Law to assess the value of Delta’s fleet for 2018 taxes. This resulted in a $2.8B valuation.

Salt Lake County challenged this valuation before the Commission, arguing it was below fair market value, violating the Utah Constitution.

The County submitted a $3.6B appraisal using a unitary valuation method not reliant on the Aircraft Valuation Law.
Delta rebutted the County’s appraisal, criticizing the failure to use the Law’s methodology.

The Commission upheld the original $2.8B assessment using the Aircraft Valuation Law.

Here are the County’s Arguments:

The Aircraft Valuation Law’s methodology undervalued Delta’s fleet compared to a unitary valuation approach.
This violates the Utah Constitution’s requirement that property be taxed uniformly and equally based on fair market value.

The County submitted its own $3.6B appraisal as evidence the statutory method did not reflect fair market value.

Delta’s Arguments were as follows:

The Commission correctly followed the valuation method required by the Aircraft Valuation Law.

The constitution grants the legislature authority to determine valuation methods.

The County did not compare values under other pricing guides as required to use an alternative valuation method.
The County’s appraisal improperly diverged from the statutory methodology.

After hearing arguments, the court reasoned as follows:

The legislature has authority to determine valuation methods for taxation purposes. The constitutionality of a tax statute is presumed, especially in economic matters.

To successfully invoke the alternative valuation method safety valve, the County had the burden to show (1) clear and convincing evidence that the statutory method does not reflect fair market value, and (2) identify an alternative method for determining value.

The County produced evidence under (1) that a unitary method would value Delta’s fleet higher than the statutory method. But it did not address (2) by comparing values under other potential pricing guides.

Ultimately, the Utah Supreme Court held that:

The County did not fully avail itself of the statutory safety valve to challenge constitutionality. Therefore, the court cannot conclude the Aircraft Valuation Law is unconstitutional as applied in this case.

I hope this helps you with staying current on Utah case law.

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Utah State Tax Commission v Delta Air Lines Inc 2023 UT 24