Judge rules in favor of parish rancher sued by sheriff over sales taxes

Published 11:44 am Friday, August 12, 2022

Louisiana District Judge Alan Zaunbrecher ruled Thursday that a Mt. Hermon rancher does not have to pay sales taxes on sales of meat from his sheep and Black Angus cattle.

Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal, serving as ex-officio tax collector of the parish, said he was instructed by counsel to bring a lawsuit against Jason Smith, of Mt. Hermon. Many farm products are exempt from state sales tax, but the lawsuit argued that Smith’s meat sales should not be exempt because the meat had to be processed rather than sold as is.

Zaunbrecher rejected that argument in a three-page judgment released Thursday.

“The court finds that the broad terms ‘farm products’ would include ‘livestock’ and ‘livestock products,’” Zaunbrecher wrote. “(Smith’s ranch) is clearly the producer of the farm product.”

The Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office released a statement Thursday after the judge’s ruling.

“Sheriff Seal filed the lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of Washington Parish, all of whom benefit from the collection of sales tax which is distributed to various recipients, including school systems, parish and municipal governments, law enforcement agencies and other entities as specified by law. The litigation was filed on the advice of counsel and with no animus against any parish business.

“Sheriff Seal, as Ex-Officio Tax Collector of Washington Parish, will abide by the court’s decision and plans no appeal.”

Smith could have owed nearly $40,000 in back sales taxes, had the judge ruled against him. The lawsuit was originally filed in October of 2021.

State Rep. Larry Frieman, whose district includes Mt. Hermon, told The Advocate that he believed the ruling was just.

“I am very happy for the farmers and ranchers,” he told the newspaper. “I think the judge got it right.”