case involves an issue of statutory interpretation regarding
the applicability of a tax classification. First Student
Inc., a school bus contractor, seeks reversal of a Court of
Appeals decision affirming a summary judgment dismissal of
its business and occupation (B&O) tax refund action. At
issue is whether First Student's transportation of
students qualifies as transporting persons "for
hire" such that it is subject to the public utility tax
(PUT), under RCW 82.16.010(6) and (12), rather than the
general B&O tax, under RCW 82.04.290(2). We affirm the
Court of Appeals.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Student is a registered Washington business that owns and
operates school buses. These buses are primarily used to
provide transportation services for schoolchildren through
contracts with various school districts. Since First Student
registered as a business in 1990, it has consistently
reported its income under the B&O tax classification, as
specified in WAC 458-20-180. In 2013, First Student requested
a letter ruling from the Department of Revenue (Department)
contending that First Student should have been taxed under
the PUT rather than the B&O tax. The Department declined
to change its interpretation that school buses are subject to
the B&O tax and not the PUT, an interpretation that has
evidently remained consistent for more than 70 years.
Student submitted refund requests to the Department for
B&O taxes paid regarding its school bus services provided
to school districts for the time period between December 1,
2008 and December 31, 2014. The Department denied the refund
requests, and First Student appealed through the
administrative review process, ultimately resulting in a
denial of First Student's refund request.
Student filed an appeal of the administrative decision in
superior court and moved for summary judgment, seeking a
determination that First Student's provision of
transportation services to school districts was taxable under
the PUT rather than the B&O tax; the Department requested
summary judgment, seeking the opposite relief. The trial
court found no genuine issues of material fact and granted
summary judgment in favor of the Department, denying First
Student's motion for summary judgment. First Student
Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and, in its
analysis, consulted dictionary definitions in existence at
the time of enactment of the statutes for the ordinary
meaning of "for" and "hire" and consulted
a 1951 Black's Law Dictionary entry for the
technical meaning of "for hire or reward,"
concluding the meaning of "for hire" was ambiguous.
First Student, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue, 4
Wn.App. 2d 857, 423 P.3d 921 (2018). In resolving this
ambiguity, the Court of Appeals afforded deference to the
long-standing Department interpretation that school bus
operators were excluded from the PUT and properly taxed under
the B&O tax. We granted review. First Student, Inc.
v. Dep't of Revenue, 193 Wn.2d 1001, 438 P.3d
review of a trial court's legal conclusions in a tax
refund action is de novo. Simpson Inv. Co. v. Dep't
of Revenue, 141 Wn.2d 139, 148, 3 P.3d 741 (2000). When
interpreting statutes, we derive legislative intent solely
from the plain language of the statute, considering the text
of the provision, the context of the statute, related
provisions, amendments to the provision, and the statutory
scheme as a whole. Cashmere Valley Bank v. Dep't of
Revenue, 181 Wn.2d 622, 631, 334 P.3d 1100 (2014). A
statutory provision is ambiguous when it is fairly
susceptible to two or more reasonable interpretations.
Dep 't of Ecology v. Campbell & Gwinn, LLC,
146 Wn.2d 1, 12, 43 P.3d 4 (2002).
goal of construing statutory language is to carry out the
intent of the legislature; in doing so, we avoid strained,
unlikely, or unrealistic interpretations. Simpson,
141 Wn.2d at 148, 149. Unless the statute expresses a
contrary intent, we may resort to an applicable dictionary
definition to determine the plain and ordinary meaning of a
word that is not otherwise defined by the statute. Am.
Legion Post No. 32 v. City of Walla Walla, 116 Wn.2d 1,
8, 802 P.2d 784 (1991). When '"the legislature uses
a term well known to the common law, it is presumed that the
legislature intended [it] to mean what it was understood to
mean at common law.'" Ralph v. Dep't of Nat.
Res., 182 Wn.2d 242, 248, 343 P.3d 342 (2014) (quoting
N.Y. Life Ins. Co. v. Jones, 86 Wn.2d 44, 47, 541
P.2d 989 (1975)).
Washington's B&O tax applies to the act or privilege
of engaging in business activities. RCW 82.04.220. Business
activities not explicitly taxed elsewhere in the statutory
scheme are subject to the general statutory tax rate. RCW
82.04.290(2). However, PUT businesses are not subject to the
B&O tax, and the tax rate differs for those businesses.
businesses of "motor transportation" and
"urban transportation" are subject to the PUT.
Under the PUT, "[t]here is levied and . . . collected
from every person a tax" for the privilege of engaging
in defined businesses, with a tax rate of 0.6 percent for
"[u]rban transportation businesses]" and a tax rate
of 1.8 percent for "[m]otor transportation . . .
businesses." Former RCW 82.l6.020(1)(d), (f) (2011).
transportation business" is defined in relevant part as
"the business (except urban transportation business) of
operating any motor propelled vehicle by which persons or
property of others are conveyed for hire." RCW
82.16.010(6). "Urban transportation business"
is defined in relevant part as "the business of
operating any vehicle for public use in the conveyance of
persons or property for hire." RCW 82.16.010(12) (the
definition also requires the operation be entirely within a
city or town or occur between cities or towns no more than
five miles apart). "For hire" is not defined, in
whole or in part, within chapter 82.16 RCW. The meaning of
the term "for hire" is the focal point of the
dispute in this case.
administration of RCW 82.16.010, the Department adopted a
regulation in 1970 excluding school buses from the
definitions of "motor transportation business" and
"urban transportation business." WAC 458-20-180.
This WAC adopted and continued the Washington State Tax
Commission's previous classification that excluded school
buses from these PUT definitions. Compare Wash.
State Tax Comm'n Rules and Regulations, Rule 180 (1956),
with WAC 458-20-180. This interpretation has remained
unchanged and had remained unchallenged since its adoption in
1943. Instead of directly challenging the validity of WAC
458-20-180 under the Administrative Procedure Act,
34.05 RCW, First Student asserts that the Department's
regulatory exclusion of school buses from the PUT definitions