High court rules that Acklies of Crete Carrier owe Nebraska tax

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The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that Phyllis Acklie and the estate of her husband, Duane Acklie, cannot escape paying Nebraska income taxes for 2010 through 2014.

The couple, who owned the Lincoln-based Crete Carrier Corp., claimed to be residents of Florida when they filed tax returns for those years. As nonresidents, they would not have had Nebraska taxes due. Florida has no state individual income tax. 

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But the Nebraska Department of Revenue determined, as part of an audit, that they were still Nebraska residents and did owe state income taxes.

The couple protested the determination, including the tax, interest and penalties. State Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton denied their protest, so they turned to the Lancaster County District Court. When that court also ruled against them, they appealed to the higher court.

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Duane Acklie was chairman of Crete Carrier Corp. when he died in 2016. He and his wife, Phyllis, bought the company in 1971 and built it into one of the nation’s largest privately owned trucking companies. He was Crete Carrier’s CEO until 1991. Phyllis was vice president, secretary and board member.

Besides the trucking business, the Acklies had longtime investments in banking, insurance, agriculture and other enterprises. He served on several corporate boards and was a behind-the-scenes force in Republican politics for two generations.

In Friday’s ruling, the court acknowledged that there was evidence supporting Nebraska as the Acklies’ domicile and other evidence supporting Florida. But the high court said the burden was on the Acklies to prove that they had changed their state of residence. It said the district court had acted reasonably in finding they did not meet the burden.

“The district court’s decision that both Duane and Phyllis failed to prove they changed their domicile from Nebraska to Florida for any of the tax years within the audit period conforms to the law, is supported by competent evidence, and is neither arbitrary, capricious, nor unreasonable,” the high court said.

Timothy Moll, an attorney representing Phyllis Acklie and the estate of Duane Acklie, did not respond to a message seeking comment. 

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According to Friday’s decision, the lower court “pointed to the Acklies’ maintaining two residences in Nebraska, registering vehicles and watercraft in Nebraska, being listed as salaried Nebraska employees located in the Crete Carrier Corporation office in filings with the Department, maintaining vast real estate investment holdings in Nebraska for which they received taxable income, having property tax statements for those properties mailed to addresses in Lincoln, and spending considerably more time in Nebraska than in Florida.”

The lower court also reviewed location summaries for each of the Acklies for the years in question, showing their travels and the days they spent in Nebraska, Florida and elsewhere.

Based on that information, the court said that they had spent more than 6 months, or 183 days, of each year in Nebraska, with the exception of 2014, and that they used Lincoln as home base for their travels. “It was the place from where they departed and to where they returned most frequently.”

It noted that state law defines a resident as “an individual who is domiciled in Nebraska or who maintains a permanent place of abode in this state and spends in the aggregate more than six months of the taxable year in this state.”

The decision said the couple had produced evidence supporting a change of residence to Florida in 2008. Those include moving personal property to a Florida residence they had purchased in 1997, getting Florida drivers’ licenses, registering vehicles in the state, registering to vote and voting in Florida and Phyllis’ sworn declaration on an application for a Florida homestead exemption that she was a permanent resident of Florida. The two used their Florida address when obtaining new passports in 2012.

But there also was evidence of continued Nebraska residence. Each Acklie owned a residence in Lincoln, plus several investment properties around the state. They had vehicles, a jet ski, a boat and a boat trailer registered in the state and had made numerous political contributions using a Nebraska address. They served as directors, honorary board members or trustees for several Nebraska entities. 

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