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Federal Court of Appeal Affirms Tax Court Decision that Free Parking at School is a Taxable Benefit in the “Branksome Hall” Cases

On December 1, 2011, the panel of Justice John Maxwell Evans, Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson and Justice David Stratas of the Federal Court of Appeal heard the “Branksome Hall” parking cases (Geraldine Anthony, Heather Friesen, Leslie Morgan, Jarrod Baker v. The Queen (2011 FCA 336)). The appeals were dismissed with a unanimous judgment delivered from the bench by Justice Layden-Stevenson shortly after Appellants’ counsel concluded his oral argument.

As discussed in an earlier post, the appeals of four employees of Branksome Hall (a private school in Toronto) (the “Appellants”) were heard collectively as test cases and on common evidence. The Appellants and approximately 100 other employees of Branksome Hall were reassessed for their 2003 and 2004 taxation years to include $92 per month (inclusive of GST and PST) in their income, representing the value of free parking provided by their employer. The issues were whether parking provided to the Appellants by their employer was a taxable benefit under paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Income Tax Act (the “Act”) and, if so, how the value of that benefit should be assessed.

Counsel for the Appellants argued in his opening statement that this is a case of the Canada Revenue Agency casting its tax net as wide as possible and attempting to tax items that it had not taxed in the past. In response to this statement, Justice Evans noted that the Federal Court of Appeal is required to apply the law as prescribed under paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Act and not make any findings on the practices of the Canada Revenue Agency.

The Appellants’ submissions focused on Justice Brent Paris’ conclusion in the Tax Court of Canada that the value of the taxable benefit was its fair market value. They argued that fair market value should only be applied to cases where there is an open market to test competitive prices. Since the demand for parking at Branksome Hall only came from staff members and Branksome Hall was restricted from charging members of the public for parking as a result of zoning restrictions, there was no open market and, therefore, fair market value should not be applied. The Appellants submitted that the value of the taxable benefit should be determined by considering only the cost incurred by the employer to provide the benefit.

In delivering reasons for judgment on behalf of the panel, Justice Layden-Stevenson stated that the Court: a) agrees with the Tax Court’s finding that even if it is accepted that the parking benefit to the Appellants should be valued at Branksome Hall’s cost of providing the parking, the evidence adduced by the Appellants was not sufficient to prove what those costs were; b) rejects the argument that the fair market value is an appropriate method of valuation only when there is an open market for the benefit in issue; and c) finds that the Appellants’ argument has been overtaken by the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in Spence v. The Queen (2011 FCA 200).

In Spence v. The Queen (2010 TCC 455), the Tax Court had valued an employment benefit of reduced tuition costs by using the cost approach instead of the fair market value approach. The Federal Court of Appeal reversed the Tax Court’s decision and applied the fair market value approach to the taxable benefit on June 13, 2011 – after the Appellants in the “Branksome Hall” cases had submitted their Memorandum of Fact and Law.

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Federal Court of Appeal Affirms Tax Court Decision that Free Parking at School is a Taxable Benefit in the “Branksome Hall” Cases