Coyle v. Commissioner of Revenue Services
Where there is a statutory grant of authority that would allow an agency to award the relief sought without deciding a constitutional question, the futility exception will not apply, and a plaintiff will be required to exhaust her administrative remedies. Public Acts 2011, No. 11-6, §84 amended C.G.S. §12-391(g), for estates of decedents dying on or after Jan. 1, 2011, by lowering the estate tax threshold and taxing estates valued between $2 million and $3.6 million at 7.2 percent, effective upon passage on May 4, 2011. Susan Coyle, executrix of the estate of Vermont Blakeman, filed a complaint against the commissioner of revenue services, alleging that her decedent, a Connecticut resident, died on April 23, 2011 and his taxable estate was in excess of $3.5 million. She alleged that the retroactive portion of P.A. 11-6, §84 violated C.G.S. §55-3, the fifth and 14th amendments to the federal constitution and article first, §11 of the state constitution. She sought a declaratory judgment that the retroaction applicability amounted to an unconstitutional taking of property. The trial court dismissed the action. Coyle appealed challenging the court's finding that she was required to exhaust administrative remedies. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The plaintiff argued that there were no administrative remedies to exhaust and that C.G.S. §12-395 concerned only appeals of domicile determinations, which was uncontested here. The Appellate Court concluded that C.G.S. §12-395 applies to appeals of the estate tax in general. Although the title of the statute only refers to appeals of domicile determinations, read as a whole and with the incorporated sections under C.G.S. §12-395(a)(1), the clear and unambiguous intent of the legislature was to provide an aggrieved party administrative remedies to appeal determinations of domicile and the amount of a levied estate tax. Additionally, it would not have been futile for the plaintiff to exhaust her administrative remedies. While the defendant could not address the constitutional question raised, the defendant could have granted appropriate relief without deciding the constitutional question. After paying the tax or following the imposition of a deficiency assessment, the plaintiff could have sought a hearing under C.G.S. §12-553 and the defendant could have made an order "as appears to him to be just and lawful." If unsatisfied, the plaintiff then could appeal.