General Laws chapter 64H, section 6(u), provides an exemption for the "sale of a motor vehicle purchased by and for the use of a person who has suffered loss, or permanent loss of use of, both legs or both arms or one leg and one arm." If a person with a disability described in that section purchases a lift-equipped vehicle, the purchase is exempt from the sales tax. In some cases however, the motor vehicle is purchased and subsequently a lift is purchased separately and installed in the motor vehicle.
Is there an exemption for the sale of a lift purchased for installation in a motor vehicle when the lift is purchased separate from the exempt motor vehicle?
If a vehicle is originally purchased with the intent that it be used by or used for a person who would otherwise qualify for the exemption under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u), then the purchase of a lift will be exempt under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u) whether the vehicle is purchased with the lift already installed or whether the lift is installed in the vehicle sometime after its purchase.
If a vehicle is originally purchased without the intent that it be used by or used for a person who would otherwise qualify for the G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u) exemption, then the purchase of the vehicle will not be exempt under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u), but upon installation of a lift in the vehicle, the purchase of the lift will be exempt under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(l) if the lift has been prescribed by a physician.
Discussion of Law:
A . Exemption under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u): General Laws chapter 64H, section 6(u) exempts from tax the "sale of a motor vehicle purchased by and for the use of a person who has suffered loss, or permanent loss of use of, both legs or both arms or one leg and one arm." Id. These exempt vehicles are often sold with lifts installed by the dealer. In such a case, the lift, included in the purchase of the exempt vehicle, is also exempt. Some dealerships, however, may not have or be able to install special equipment for the disabled. In such case, the buyer of the vehicle must purchase a lift elsewhere and have it installed separately.
The starting point for all statutory interpretation is legislative intent, ascertained from the language of the statute, but also viewed in the light of the problem to be remedied. See, e.g., Champigny v. Commonwealth, 422 Mass. 249 (1996); Fran's Lunch, Inc. v. ABCC, 45 Mass.App. 663 (1998). A strictly literal construction of a statute is not to be adopted if it will result in thwarting the purpose the statute seeks to accomplish, and another interpretation, which is reasonably possible, will not have the same effect. Commissioner of Corporations and Taxation v. Boston Ins. Co., 328 Mass. 641 (1952). In addition, the SJC has noted that exemptions under the sales tax are not to be construed narrowly. Ace Heating Service, Inc. v. State Tax Commission, 371 Mass. 254 (1976); see also, Boston Edison Co. v. Commissioner of Revenue, A.T.B. No. 99767 (1982) ("exemptions" under G.L. c. 64H, § 6 are not exemptions as the term is usually used and doubts are not to be resolved against the taxpayer). This is especially true in cases involving persons for whom the legislature has explicitly expressed concern.
The intent of G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u) is to provide a sales tax exemption for certain disabled persons who purchase motor vehicles that are equipped for their personal use. Since taxing the sale of a lift required by a disabled person because the lift was purchased separately would thwart, at least in part, the intent of the legislation, the Commissioner construes G. L. c. 64H, § 6(u) to exempt the cost of a vehicle and lift, regardless of whether the disabled person has the lift installed by the dealership or opts to purchase the lift separately and have it installed by another vendor.
B. Exemption under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(l): Not all persons who require lifts will have disabilities allowing them to purchase a motor vehicle covered by the exemption in G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u). However G.L. c. 64H, § 6(l) exempts, among other items, sales of "patient lifts." In LR 85-33, the Department interpreted this term to include the following:
1. wheelchair lifts for home use that convey a wheel chair vertically from ground level to porch level or that transport a wheelchair up stairs inside the home;
2. bath lifts that hydraulically lift a crippled person in and out of a bathtub; and
3. seat lifts that mechanically assist a crippled or disabled person out of a chair.
Based on those interpretations, a device installed in a motor vehicle to lift a person into and out of the vehicle qualifies as a patient lift for purposes of G.L. c. 64H, § 6(l). If that lift is prescribed by a physician, it is exempt from sales tax under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(l).
If a customer purchases a lift-equipped vehicle that is not exempt from sales tax under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u), for the lift to be exempt under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(l) the lift must be prescribed by a physician and the cost of the lift must be separately stated. See DD 94-3. In addition, if a person purchases a vehicle not equipped with lift at the time of purchase, then the subsequent purchase of a lift will be exempt if a physician so prescribes it under G.L. c. 64H, § 6(l).
C. Abatement applications: A vendor selling motor vehicle lifts that has previously collected and remitted a sales tax on the tax exempt lifts may file for an abatement from the Department using Form CA-6 within the time designated by G.L. c. 62C, § 37. The vendor must have adequate records proving that the purchaser either had a disability of the type described in G.L. c. 64H, § 6(u) or that the purchaser had a prescription for the lift from a physician. Such proof may consist of a Form MVU-33 or a Form ST-12B completed by the purchaser and a physician. The vendor must establish that the tax has been refunded to the purchaser.
A purchaser who purchased a lift-equipped vehicle and paid sales tax on the entire cost of the vehicle to the Registry of Motor Vehicles may apply for an abatement of the sales tax based on the cost of the lift, provided that the cost of the lift is separately stated on the purchase invoice for the motor vehicle and provided that the lift was prescribed by a physician.
/s/Frederick A Laskey
Frederick A. Laskey
Commissioner of Revenue
September 29, 2000