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The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)



Opinion No. 6317

October 29, 1985


Refund of gross weight vehicle registration or international registration plan fees



A refund of gross weight vehicle registration fees may not be made as paid through 'error' if the fee was intentionally and understandingly paid, even though an international registration plan fee was paid on the same vehicle for part or all of the same gross weight registration fee year.

A prorated refund of an international registration plan fee paid may be made if the person's operator license is revoked or suspended, in accordance with law, for medical or physical reasons.

Honorable Rudy J. Nichols

State Senator

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan

Honorable Claude Trim

State Representative

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan

You have requested my opinion on two questions related to the refund of certain vehicle registration fees. Your first question is:

Whether MCL 257.80lb; MSA 9.2501(2), authorizes a refund or credit of gross vehicle weight (GVW) registration fees paid on certain vehicles prior to the time of the state's participation in the international registration plan (IRP) where registration fees must be paid pursuant to the latter plan for a period which commences prior to the expiration of the GVW registration.

1984 PA 330 amended MCL 257.801g; MSA 9.2501(7), effective December 26, 1984, to authorize the state to participate in the IRP. Prior to the time of participation in IRP, GVW registration fees were required from owners of certain affected vehicles. The GVW registrations are purchased throughout the year for differing lengths of time and the fees are adjusted accordingly. MCL 257.802; MSA 9.2502.

Prior to entering the IRP, the state had reciprocal agreements with other states that allowed GVW registrants in Michigan to operate in the other state without having to purchase a sister state's registration. The same was also true for registrants of the reciprocal agreement states to operate in Michigan on the same basis. Starting in 1973, many state joined the IRP which permits the apportionment of fees among the states where the registrant operates. A Michigan registrant, when applying for a IRP registration, indicates the percentage of miles that the registrant will be operating in each IRP state. The Michigan fee is based on the percentage of miles driven in Michigan. Michigan only collects its fee and the remaining percentages of the fee are collected by the other IRP states in which the registrant will operate after notification to such states by Michigan. An audit of the registrant's records is performed to insure that the percentages approximated were accurate. Michigan began issuing IRP registrations on March 1, 1985. An IRP registration expires on February 28 of each year and is effective for one year.

Approximately 30 states are in the plan. The reciprocal agreements with other states in the IRP are revoked upon entering into the IRP, but not with non-IRP states. Two of Michigan's border states, however, are not in the plan. This fact is important because the availability of an IRP registration does not eliminate the need for or the use of a GVW registration. For example, if a registrant operates in Michigan only, the registrant would purchase a GVW registration. Further, if a registrant operated only in Michigan and non-IRP states, a GVW registration must be purchased.

The general principle of law relating to refunds of fees collected by the state is that refunds of license or registration fees may not be made without express statutory authority. 1 OAG, 1957-1958, No 2871, p 83 (February 7, 1957), considered a question regarding the authority of the Secretary of State to issue refunds of license registration fees and concluded that a refund may not be made in the absence of statutory authority for a refund.

MCL 257.801b; MSA 9.2501(2), authorizes the refund of registration fees paid in accordance with MCL 257.801; MSA 9.2501. The only pertinent subsection of MCL 257.801b; MSA 9.2501(2), states:

'(1) If a person, through error either on his or her own part or that of the secretary of state, pays the specific tax required by section 801 or 802 more than once on the same equipment, the secretary of state, upon application and satisfactory proof, shall refund the amount paid in error. A claim of payment shall be filed within 1 year after dater of payment and verified by the secretary of state before a refund is made. If an application for a dealer license provided for in section 248 is withdrawn by the applicant or the applicant's heir, before issuance of the dealer license, the fees that accompanied the application under sections 803, 803a, and 807 may be refunded by the secretary of state upon application and satisfactory proof.' (Emphasis added.)

The issue to be considered is whether the payment of a GVW registration was through error. If there was an error, the amount paid in error may be refunded. The decision as to whether the registration was purchased in error is a factual determination that must be made by the Secretary of State, who should consider each refund request on an individual basis and decide if the registration was purchased in error.

The Colorado Supreme Court had occasion to define the statutory phrase 'paid erroneously' in a case involving the attempt to recover a refund of an inheritance tax in State of Colorado v Newton, 134 Colo 58; 300 P2d 527, 530 (1956). Suit was brought to recover an estate 'gap tax' allegedly erroneously paid by the estate of a deceased. The Colorado statute provided that the tax may be refunded when it has been paid 'erroneously.' The court stated:

'The record shows that there was no error or mistake in the tax payment at the time it was made by plaintiff. He paid the very tax and the amount of tax that he intended to pay; nor was there any protest at time of payment, or error in the demand for payment, or in noting the payment or in issuing the receipt. The term 'paid erroneously' is clearly intended to cover cases where payment was made under a misapprehension as to what was being paid. A tax intentionally and understandingly paid, although the assessment was made or the tax levied incorrectly, is not erroneously paid. Security Nat. Bank v. Twinde, 52 S.D. 352, 217 N.W. 542, cited with approval in Pittsburg Coal Co. v. School District of Forward Tp., 1951, 366 Pa. 489, 78 A.2d 253 and in Shea v. State Tax Commission, 101 Utah 209, 120 P.2d 274.'

The Michigan Supreme Court in In re Appeal of Hoskins Manufacturing Co, 270 Mich 592, 597; 259 NW 334 (1935), noted that the state, in applying the corporation privilege tax in a manner so that the balance sheet of a corporation is final only in the absence of fraud or error, has given a broad definition to the term 'error' to mean 'incorrectness.' It has also been held that the term 'error' means 'mistake.' Guarino v Celebrezze, 336 F2d 336, 339 (CA 3, 1964).

While the Secretary of State is authorized to refund GVW registration fees paid or computed incorrectly or by mistake in accordance with MCL 257.801b(1); MSA 9.2501(2)(1), there is no authority contained therein for the Secretary of State to refund GVW registration fees because the person later paid IRP registration fees on the same vehicle for part or all of the same registration year.

It is my opinion, therefore, that the Secretary of State may refund gross weight vehicle registration fees if the fee was incorrectly computed or paid by mistake. It is my further opinion that the Secretary of State is not authorized to refund gross weight vehicle registration fees intentionally and understandingly paid even though international registration plan fees were later paid on the same vehicle for all or part of the gross weight registration year.

In your second question, you ask whether a prorated refund of an IRP registration fee may be made if a person suffers a verifiable disabling illness and is unable to continue operating the registered vehicle.

As noted in the answer to your first question, a refund of registration fees may only be made if there is statutory authority therefor. MCL 257.801b(2); MSA 9.2501(2)(2), permits a prorated monthly refund if a person's license to operate a motor vehicle is revoked, suspended, or denied for medical or physical reasons.

MCL 257.320; MSA 9.2020, authorizes the Secretary of State to conduct an investigation and re-examine a person that the Secretary of State has reason to believe is afflicted with a mental or physical infirmity or disability rendering it unsafe for that person to drive a motor vehicle. The Secretary of State, after notice and for good cause, may restrict, revoke, suspend or deny a person an operator's license. Thus, if the Secretary of State revokes, suspends, or denies a person's operator's license for medical or physical reasons, the Secretary of State is authorized to give the registrant of a GVW or IRP registration a prorated refund of a GVW or IRP registration fee upon application therefor.

It is my opinion in answer to your second question that a refund of an international registration plan fee may be made if the Secretary of State suspends, revokes, or denies a license to operate a vehice of the person paying the registration fee for medical or physical reasons in accordance with MCL 257.320; MSA 9.2020.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General

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