Utah Supreme Court upholds arbitration panel’s attorney fee award for confirmation litigation and holds liability waiver fees in rent to own contracts are not subject to sales tax.

Westgate Resorts, Ltd. v Adel

Westgate appealed an order confirming an arbitration panel’s award of attorney fees for litigation to confirm the original arbitration award. The Court affirmed. It first held that the fee award was not allowed under Utah code 78B-11-122(2) as an arbitration expense as confirmation litigation is not an “expense of arbitration” because section 122’s title mentions arbitration proceedings, 78B-11-126 vests the reviewing district court with authority to award fees in confirmation proceedings and the district court most familiar with the confirmation proceeding. The Court held the fee was proper, however, under 122(2) as it is “authorized by law” because the statute which Adel sued under, the Utah pattern of Unlawful Activity Act, mandates a fee award under Utah Code 76-10-1605(2)and thus the arbitration panel was required to grant fees. It upheld the amount of the fee as 1605(2) does not limit the award to the amount Adel was contractually obligated to pay and no Utah case has imposed that limitation. The Court finally awarded additional fees for the appeal and remanded the case to the district court to calculate the fee award for this appeal.

Rent-A-Center West, Inc. v Utah State Tax Commission

West appealed Commission’s ruling that it owed sales tax on liability waiver fees collected from customers who rented items to own. The Court reversed. It held that under the plain language of Utah Code 59-12-103(1)(k), the liability waiver fee is not part of the amount “paid or charged” for the leased items as it does not affect possession use or operation of the items and Utah’s statue is different than states which levy sales tax on the gross proceeds of rental agreements. It also held that Utah Administrative Code R865-19S-32(1)(a) is inconsistent with 103(1)(k) as it expands the sales tax to amounts connected to the lease instead of limiting it to amounts charged for the leases.