Alabama Department of Revenue v. Panama City Wholesale, Inc.Annotate this Case
Alabama imposed a license or privilege tax on tobacco products stored or received for distribution within the State ("the tobacco tax"). Under Alabama law, the Department of Revenue could confiscate tobacco products on which the tobacco tax had not been paid. Panama City Wholesale, Inc. ("PCW") was a wholesale tobacco-products distributor located in Panama City, Florida, and owned by Ehad Ahmed. One of PCW's customers, Yafa Wholesale, LLC ("Yafa"), was an Alabama tobacco distributor owned by Sayeneddin Thiab ("Thiab"). On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael destroyed the roof on PCW's warehouse. Department surveillance agents observed observed one of Thiab's vehicles being unloaded at two of the recently rented storage units. The day after that, agents observed one of Thiab's delivery vehicles being loaded with tobacco products from a recently rented unit following the storm. On October 23, 2018, the Department confiscated 1,431,819 cigars from four storage units leased by persons connected to Yafa and Thiab. It is undisputed that the tobacco tax had not been paid on the cigars. Ahmed filed an action against Vernon Barnett, as Commissioner of the Department, seeking a judgment declaring that the cigars were Ahmed's and that they were not subject to confiscation. The case was transferred to the Jefferson Circuit Court, PCW was substituted for Ahmed, and the parties were realigned to make the Commissioner of the Department the plaintiff and PCW the defendant in a civil forfeiture action. On PCW's motion, the circuit court entered a summary judgment in PCW's favor, ruling that the Commissioner failed to present substantial evidence that the cigars were in the possession of a retailer or semijobber, as the court believed was required by the confiscation statute. The Commissioner appealed. A divided Alabama Supreme Court reversed, concluding the circuit court erred in interpreting the confiscation statute to apply only to untaxed tobacco products in the possession of retailers and semijobbers, and because the Commissioner presented substantial evidence that the cigars were subject to confiscation under a correct interpretation of the statute, the Court reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.