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Judge decides against coffee giants in tax exemption lawsuit

An Orleans Municipality judge reversed an injunction in Folgers Coffee Co.’s tax exemption lawsuit that allowed local tax authorities to bill the company an estimated $5.1 million.

Spurred by a decision by Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday to dismiss the coffee giant’s latest appeals for six Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) requests, Orleans Civil Court Judge Omar Mason vacated the injunction that Folgers obtained in November to withhold payment of property taxes on its New Orleans facilities.

Orleans Township Assessor Errol Williams said in a news release Thursday that he now has the green light to finally proceed with listing the controversial properties on valuation lists and generating about $5.1 million in back taxes since 2019 . Williams will also file amendment orders with the Louisiana Tax Commission for 2023 to assess what Folgers owes for that year.

Under ITEP, the company requested millions of dollars in six separate property tax credits for improvements it had completed at its Chef Menteur Highway and Old Gentilly Road plants. However, three local tax authorities — the New Orleans City Council, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Orleans Parish School Board — denied all six of Folgers’ applications.

The governor rejects Folgers Coffee Co.’s tax exemptions in the state’s final decision

New Orleans officials then sent Folgers a $5.1 million bill for the unpaid and pending taxes. In response, Folgers filed a lawsuit and successfully persuaded a judge to stop the tax bill, arguing that its ITEP applications were pending an administrative proceeding with the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry.

In a separate decision on March 2, that board sided with Folgers, approving all six of his school board tax exemptions and two of his city tax exemptions. The Board of Commerce and Industry, composed mostly of unelected businessmen and other governor-appointed individuals, inexplicably singled out New Orleans public schools to bear the brunt of the lost tax revenues. However, the board still required Edwards to sign the motions and the governor refused.

Edwards’ refusal meant there was no longer any reason for the restraining order, although it’s unclear if Folgers plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. JM Smucker, Folgers’ parent company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.