Illinois Appellate Court Blows the Whistle on Serial Relator

In a bombshell opinion, the Illinois Appellate Court held that a law firm serving both as client and attorney may not recover statutory attorneys’ fees under the Illinois False Claims Act (the Act). In People ex rel. Schad, Diamond & Shedden, P.C. v. My Pillow, Inc., 2017 IL App (1st) 152668 (June 15, 2017), the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, reversed the trial court’s award of attorney fees in excess of $600,000 for work performed by Diamond’s law firm on behalf of itself as the relator. McDermott represents My Pillow in this matter.

Much like its federal counterpart, the Act allows private citizens (referred to as relators) to file fraud claims on behalf of the state of Illinois. If successful, relators can collect up to 30 percent of the damages award plus attorneys’ fees. The Diamond firm is hardly a traditional “whistleblower” with “inside knowledge,” as it has filed approximately 1,000 different qui tam actions as the relator over the last 15 years. The firm initially focused its suits on out-of-state businesses for allegedly knowingly failing to collect Illinois use tax on merchandise delivered to Illinois customers, then expanded its dragnet to allege a knowing failure to collect tax on shipping and handling charges associated with merchandise shipped to Illinois. The firm then targeted out-of-state liquor retailers for alleged knowing nonpayment of certain taxes on the sale of alcoholic beverages to Illinois residents and, most recently, the firm filed over 80 lawsuits targeting tailors based in Hong Kong and London, making similar claims for not collecting Illinois use tax.

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BREAKING NEWS: Expanded “Physical Presence” Codification Bill Introduced in House

On, June 12, 2017, the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 was introduced by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) as one of seven original co-sponsors. As described in detail below, the scope and applicability of the “physical presence” requirement in the 2017 bill is significantly broader than the first iteration of the bill that was introduced last year. Not only does the bill expand the physical presence rule to all taxes, it expands the rule to all regulations.

2016 Bill

In July 2016, Congressman Sensenbrenner introduced the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2016 (H.R. 5893) in the US House of Representatives. The bill provided that states and localities could not: (1) obligate a person to collect a sales, use or similar tax; (2) obligate a person to report sales; (3) assess a tax on a person; or (4) treat the person as doing business in a state or locality for purposes of such tax unless the person has a physical presence in the jurisdiction during the calendar quarter that the obligation or assessment is imposed. “Similar tax” meant a tax that is imposed on the sale or use of a product or service.

Under the 2016 bill, persons would have a physical presence only if the person: (1) owns or leases real or tangible personal property (other than software) in the state; (2) has one or more employees, agents or independent contractors in the state specifically soliciting product or service orders from customers in the state or providing design, installation or repair services there; or (3) maintains an office in-state with three or more employees for any purpose. The bill provided that “physical presence” did not include the following: (1) click-through referral agreements with in-state persons who receive commissions for referring customers to the seller; (2) presence for less than 15 days in a taxable year; (3) product delivery provided by a common carrier; or (4) internet advertising services not exclusively directed towards, or exclusively soliciting in-state customers.

The bill did not define the term “seller,” but did provide that “seller” did not include a: (1) marketplace provider (specifically defined); (2) referrer (specifically defined); (3) carrier, in which the seller does not have an ownership interest, providing transportation or delivery of tangible personal property; or (4) credit card issuer, transaction billing processor or other financial intermediary. Under the 2016 bill, persons not considered “sellers” (e.g., marketplace providers) were protected as well because the bill provided that a state may not impose a collection or reporting obligation or assess tax on “any person other than a purchaser or seller having a physical presence in the State.”

2017 Bill

The scope of the 2017 bill is significantly broader than the bill introduced in 2016 and would require a person to have “physical presence” in a state before the state can “tax or regulate [the] person’s activity in interstate commerce.” (emphasis added) The new bill applies the “physical presence” requirement to sales and use tax, as well as net income and other business activities taxes, and also the states’ ability to “regulate” interstate commerce. “Regulate” means “to impose a standard or requirement on the production, manufacture or post-sale disposal of any product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce as a condition of sale in a state when: (1) such production or manufacture occurs outside the state; (2) such requirement is in addition to the requirements applicable to such production or manufacture pursuant to federal law and the laws of the state and locality in which the production or manufacture occurs; (3) such imposition is not otherwise expressly permitted by federal law; and (4) such requirement is enforced by a state’s executive branch or its agents or contractors.”

The definition of “physical presence” in the 2017 bill is different from the definition in the 2016 bill. Under the 2017 bill, a person would have a “physical presence” in a state if during the calendar year the person: (1) maintained its commercial or legal domicile in the state; (2) owned or leased real or tangible personal property (other than software) in the state; (3) has one or more employees, agents or independent contractors in the state providing design, installation or repair services on behalf of a remote seller; (4) has one or more employees, exclusive agents or exclusive independent contracts in the state who engage in activities that substantially assist the person to establish or maintain a market in the state; or (5) regularly employs three or more employees in the state.

The 2016 bill did not include maintaining a commercial or legal domicile in the state in the definition of “physical presence.” Additionally, under the 2016 bill, a person who had three or more employees performing activities (other than solicitation of sales, design, installation or repair services) in a state was physically present in the state only if the person also maintained an office in the state. Under the 2017 bill, there is no requirement that the person also maintain an office in the state.  Additionally, the 2017 bill provides that a person has “physical presence” in a state if it has one or more employees, exclusive agents or exclusive independent contracts in the state who engage in activities that substantially assist the person to establish or maintain a market in the state. The 2016 bill did not require that the agents and independent contractors be “exclusive”—thus, the 2017 bill limits the scope of this provision. The 2017 bill also requires that the employees, agents or independent contractors “maintain a marketplace” for the seller in the state (rather than solicit the sale of product or service orders as in the 2016 bill).

In addition to the activities not considered “physical presence” under the 2016 bill, the 2017 bill also provides that “physical presence” does not include the following: (1) ownership by a person outside of the state of an interest in a LLC or similar entity organized or with a physical presence in the state; (2) the furnishing of information to people in the state or the gathering of information from people in the state, provided the information is used or disseminated from outside of the state; and (3) activities related to the person’s potential or actual purchase of goods or services in the state if the final decision to purchase is made out of the state. Additionally, the 2017 bill provides that product delivery by a carrier or other service provider (not just a common carrier as in the 2016 bill) will not be considered “physical presence.”

The 2017 bill has the same protections for non-sellers as the 2016 bill.  While the 2017 bill still excludes “marketplace providers” (defined substantially the same) from the definition of “seller” (protecting them from a tax or collection obligation as a non-seller), it adds a new carve out for sales through the marketplace of products owned by the marketplace provider. In this instance, the marketplace provider would be the “seller,” and a tax or collection obligation would be permitted if the marketplace provider has a “physical presence” in the jurisdiction.

As introduced, the 2017 bill would apply to calendar quarters beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

Practice Note

If passed, the 2017 bill would have an enormous impact not just on taxes, but on all regulation of business activities by states. Last year’s bill was an attempt to codify and define the Quill physical presence rule and preempt state nexus legislation. The 2017 bill does the same; it codifies the Quill physical presence rule which would not only legislatively enact and define Quill, but also preempt many of the state attempts to expand physical presence nexus, including click-through, marketplace nexus and economic nexus.

However, the 2017 bill goes even further. It would expand the physical presence rule to all other taxes, including business activity and net income taxes. This is similar to the rule that would have been established under the Business Activity Tax Simplification Act (BATSA) introduced as H.R. 2584 in the last congressional session.

But the 2017 bill goes even beyond BATSA, prohibiting any regulation by a state over a person or business unless that person or business has physical presence in the state. This expansion is likely related to a fight between states that has been progressing through the courts. California has a law that requires eggs sold in California to be laid by hens in cages that are of a specific size. Missouri and other states sued to invalidate California’s law, but lost in the 9th Circuit and certiorari was denied by the US Supreme Court on May 30, 2017. Thus, the 2017 bill is unlike anything seen before in the tax context—and the impact, whether enacted or not, remains to be seen.

Update on Illinois Legislative Session

On May 31, the Illinois General Assembly closed its regular legislative session, without a budget agreement.

Senate Bill 9

As we previously reported, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill 9 (Bill), a tax proposal that is part of the Illinois “Grand Bargain” that we described in a previous post. The version of Senate Bill 9 that passed out of the Senate passed the House Revenue Committee on May 29 on a partisan vote. The House has extended the Bill’s final action deadline to June 30.

The current version of the Bill is similar but not identical to the version that we have previously described. Some of the more significant amendments include the following:

Two New Taxes. The Bill now proposes to create two new taxes. The “Video Service Tax Modernization Act” purports to impose a tax on satellite television and streaming television services at a rate of 5 percent of the gross revenues that a provider earns from its Illinois customers. The Bill also creates the “Entertainment Tax Fairness Act” which seeks to tax viewing “entertainment,” defined as “paid video programming whether transmitted by cable service, direct-to-home satellite service, direct broadcast satellite service, digital audio-visual works service, or video service.” The tax rate is 1 percent of charges paid by the customer. Both taxes exempt satellite or subscription radio services and can be passed-through and collected from customers.

Income Tax. The Bill now proposes to increase income tax rates for individuals, trusts and estates to 4.95 percent (rather than the previously proposed 4.99 percent rate). Also, the tax rate increases, including the increase to 7 percent for corporations (corporate increase unchanged from the Bill’s prior version), continue to be permanent.

Sales Tax Base Expansion. The current version of the Bill removes repair and maintenance services, landscaping services, cable television services (but see “Two New Taxes” described above) and some personal care services (including nails and hair removal) from the Bill’s expansion of the Illinois sales tax base.

It is difficult to predict whether any portion of Senate Bill 9 will be enacted. Since the Illinois General Assembly’s regular sessions have now ended, legislative approval will require a three-fifths majority and, to date, the governor has refused to endorse the legislation.

Senate Bill 1577

We have previously reported on Senate Bill 1577, which proposes to increase the penalty amounts imposed for violation of the Illinois False Claims Act. The bill passed the House on May 30 with the exception for certain low dollar tax claims as previously described.

Not One but TWO Tax Events Coming Up this Week!

Inside SALT: Significant State Tax Developments and Opportunities

June 8, 2017 – New York, NY

Lawyers in McDermott Will & Emery’s State and Local Tax Group present an informative half-day program. A wide range of topics will be discussed, including:

  • New York developments, including false claims and budget provisions
  • Nexus updates and developments in digital taxation
  • New developments in apportionment, transfer pricing developments and unclaimed property

You can still register! Click here to view more details and register for the event.

Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable

June 8, 2017 – Chicago, IL

McDermott Will & Emery’s Tax in the City® is a discussion and networking group for women in tax that facilitates in-person connections and roundtable study group events around the country.

At this year’s second edition of Tax in the City®, we will host a CLE/CPE discussion focusing on current developments in professional responsibility and ethics, including a presentation focused on ethical issues arising out of our increasing access to connectivity (such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets). This will be followed by a substantive lunch program featuring the following topics:

  • Best Practices for Drafting Tax Provisions in Commercial and Other Contracts
  • Getting Ready for 2018 – Taking Steps to Prepare for Rules that Become Effective 01/01/2018
  • Tax Reform – What Can / Should You Be Doing Now?

To find our more information about Tax in the City® and get involved in future events, please email khazel@mwe.com, jmay@mwe.com or smcgill@mwe.com.

Substitute Alert ‒ Delaware Technical Corrections Bill

Last Friday, the Delaware Senate released a substituted version of the bill (Senate Bill 79) introduced last month as a technical corrections bill to Senate Bill 13—the unclaimed property rewrite legislation enacted earlier this year.

The Senate substitute differs from the introduced version of Senate Bill 79 as follows:

  1. It does not strike § 1147(a)—the provision that limits the ability of a holder to assign or otherwise transfer its obligation to pay or deliver property or to comply with the unclaimed property law to others (aside from a parent, subsidiary or affiliate of the holder).
  2. It would delay the timeline that Delaware must promulgate regulations to December 1, 2017.
  3. It would make changes to the State Escheator’s authority to grant waivers of interest and penalties under § 1185 as follows:
    1. Removes the language in the introduced bill that made the discretionary waiver of penalties only applicable to late filed property remitted while under examination.
    2. Gives State Escheator the following waiver authority for property remitted before January 1, 2019:
      1. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State with a required report under § 1142 (the general holder report section) or § 1170 (the compliance review section) of this title.
      2. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State as a result of securities examinations in which estimation is not required under §§ 1171 and 1172 of this title.
      3. Waive up to 50 percent of the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for all unclaimed property remitted to the State and not provided for in paragraphs (b)(1) or (b)(2) of this section.
    3. Gives State Escheator the following waiver authority for property remitted on or after January 1, 2019:
      1. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State with a required report under § 1142 (the general holder report section) or § 1170 (the compliance review section) of this title.
      2. Except for examinations expedited under § 1172(c) of this title, waive up to 50 percent of the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for all unclaimed property remitted to the State and not provided for in paragraph (c)(1) of this section.

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Nexus is Crucial, Complex Connection for State Tax Professionals

With multiple state lawsuits, competing federal legislation, many state bills, and several rulings and regulations, the physical presence rule remains an important and contentious issue.  In this article for the TEI magazine, Mark Yopp takes a practical approach for practitioners to deal with the ever-evolving landscape.

Read the full article.

Reprinted with permission. Originally published in TEI Magazine, ©2017.

Finishing SALT: InsideSALT’s Monthly Recap

Wrapping Up May – and Looking Forward to June

Our May 2017 blog posts are available on our Inside SALT blog, or read each article by clicking on the titles below. To receive the latest on state and local tax news and commentary directly in your inbox as they are posted, fill out the form on the right to subscribe to our email list.

May 16, 2017: Illinois Department of Revenue Affirms Cloud-Based Services Not Taxable

In two recent General Information Letters (GILs), the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) reaffirmed that computer software provided through a cloud-based delivery system is not subject to tax in Illinois. The Department announced that while it continues to review cloud-based arrangements and may determine they are taxable at some point, any decision to tax cloud-based services will be applied prospectively only.

May 24, 2017: Illinois Bills to Watch

Just days away from the May 31 close of its regular legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly has yet to enact the comprehensive series of tax and budget reforms that were first proposed by the Illinois Senate leadership late last year. On May 23, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill (SB) 9, the tax proposal we described in a previous post, without any Republican support, but it seems likely that Illinois’ Republican Governor will veto the legislation.

Looking forward to June:

June 8, 2017: Chicago – Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable

McDermott Will & Emery’s Tax in the City® network will host a CLE/CPE discussion focusing on current developments in professional responsibility and ethics, including a discussion focused on ethical issues arising out of our increasing access to connectivity.

June 8, 2017: New York – Inside SALT: Significant State Developments and Opportunities

McDermott Will & Emery’s New York State and Local Tax group presents a half-day program that will discuss a wide range of topics, including New York developments such as false claims and budget provisions, Nexus updates and developments in digital taxation, and new developments in apportionment, transfer pricing and unclaimed property.

Illinois Bills to Watch

Just days away from the May 31 close of its regular legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly has yet to enact the comprehensive series of tax and budget reforms that were first proposed by the Illinois Senate leadership late last year. Yesterday, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill (SB) 9, the tax proposal we described in a previous post, without any Republican support. SB 9 now moves to the Democratically-controlled House for consideration. Even if approved by the House, it seems likely that Illinois’ Republican Governor will veto the legislation. Continue Reading

Illinois Department of Revenue Reaffirms Cloud-Based Services Not Taxable

In two recent General Information Letters (GILs), the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) reaffirmed that computer software provided through a cloud-based delivery system is not subject to tax in Illinois. The Department announced that while it continues to review cloud-based arrangements and may determine they are taxable at some point, any decision to tax cloud-based services will be applied prospectively only. The GILs also recognize Quill’s physical presence requirement for Commerce Clause nexus.

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Illinois UP Bill Would Retroactively Require Reporting of Gift Cards and B2B Transactions

Earlier this year, an unclaimed property rewrite bill (HB 2603) was introduced in the Illinois House that would require holders to retroactively report a number of property types currently exempt. The provision would require a retroactive period of 10 report years. Items that are currently exempt that would become reportable include gift cards and property resulting from business-to-business (B2B) transactions.

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