Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act Finalized for State Enactment—Legislative Drafting Notes and Interpretative Comments Added

The fourth iteration of a uniform unclaimed property act—entitled the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (RUUPA or Act)—has been finalized by the Uniform Law Commission for state enactment. The new Prefatory Note, Legislative Notes, and Comments components offer further explanatory guidance on the Act.

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BREAKING NEWS: No Physical Presence Required for Ohio CAT Imposition

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated slip opinions in the three companion cases challenging Ohio’s Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) economic nexus standard. See Crutchfield Corp. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7760; Newegg, Inc. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7762; and Mason Cos., Inc. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7768.

In ruling 5-2 in favor of the state, the Ohio Supreme Court first held that physical presence is not a necessary condition for imposing the CAT because the CAT’s $500,000 sales-receipts threshold is adequate quantitative standard that ensures that taxpayer’s nexus with Ohio is substantial under the dormant Commerce Clause. In reaching this conclusion, the court specifically stated that “[o]ur reading of the case law indicates that the physical-presence requirement recognized and preserved by the United States Supreme Court for purposes of use-tax collection does not extend to business-privilege taxes such as the CAT.” (emphasis in original) Note that the court held this was the case regardless of whether the business-privilege tax is measured by income or receipts. In rebuking the taxpayer’s argument that Tyler Pipe affirmatively required some physical presence in the taxing state, the court held that physical presence is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for imposing a business-privilege tax. See our prior blog on the oral argument for a more detailed description of the Tyler Pipe argument.

Second, the Ohio high court viewed the burdens imposed by the CAT on interstate commerce as not clearly excessive in relation to Ohio’s legitimate interest in imposing the CAT evenhandedly on sales receipts of in-state and out-of-state sellers. Citing these two bases, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Board of Tax Appeals’ (BTA) decisions affirming the CAT assessments against the three appellants. The dissenting opinion viewed Quill as the proper standard for the Ohio CAT, and would have remanded the cases to the BTA for a determination of whether the taxpayer had physical presence.

Practice Note:

These companion cases were viewed by many as a potential vehicle to seek review of the continued viability of the Quill physical presence requirement (as Justice Kennedy called for in his widely-cited DMA concurrence last year). However, the narrow scope of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision makes it difficult for this case to become the vehicle for the US Supreme Court to review Quill’s continuing viability for sales and use tax nexus.

SALT Implications of Final Section 385 Debt-Equity Regulations

The recently released final regulations under Internal Revenue Code Section 385, addressing the circumstances under which related company debt will be classified as equity for federal income tax purposes, will have a significant impact on state and local taxes. Federal tax practitioners, as well as state and local tax practitioners, must address their implications.

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Digital Tax Update – Local Edition

After the highly publicized administrative lease transaction and amusement tax expansions in Chicago last year, more cities around the country are taking steps to impose transaction taxes on the sale or rental of digital content. Unlike tax expansion efforts at the state level (such as the law recently passed in Pennsylvania), which have almost all been tackled legislatively, the local governments are addressing the issue without clear legislative authority by issuing administrative guidance and taking aggressive positions on audit. As the local tax threat facing digital providers turns from an isolated incident to a nationwide trend, we wanted to highlight some of the more significant local tax developments currently on our radar.

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Illinois Appellate Court Delivers Another Blow to Relator in False Claims Act Litigation

On Monday, October 17, the Illinois Appellate Court issued another taxpayer-friendly opinion in an Illinois False Claims Act case alleging a failure to collect and remit sales tax on internet and catalog sales to customers in Illinois (People ex. rel. Beeler, Schad & Diamond, P.C. v. Relax the Back Corp., 2016 IL App. (1st) 151580)). The opinion, partially overturned a Circuit Court trial verdict in favor of the Relator, Beeler, Schad & Diamond, PC (currently named Stephen B. Diamond, PC).

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SCOTUS Asked to Hear Appeal Involving Constitutionality of Retroactive Tax Legislation

The Supreme Court of the United States has been asked to hear an appeal in a case involving the circumstances in which retroactive tax legislation will be constitutional.

In Dot Foods, Inc. v. State of Washington Department of Revenue, 372 P.3d 747 (Wash. 2016), the Washington State Supreme Court upheld legislation retroactively removing a corporate income tax exemption.  Although the legislature, in justifying its action, said that the retroactive legislation was intended to reflect the legislature’s initial intent, the facts did not bear that out.  The exemption was consciously adopted by the legislature and, indeed, upheld by the Washington Supreme Court when the Department of Revenue attacked Dot Foods’ use of it in an earlier case.  Continue Reading

New Delaware Unclaimed Property Decision Further Complicates Landscape

Another federal judge slams Delaware’s unclaimed property audit methodology but rejects the holder’s reliance on the priority rules as a defense to the audit demands. See Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Cook et al., No. 1:16-cv-00080-LPS (D. Del., Sept. 23, 2016)The court recognized the unjustness of Delaware’s audit approach, but followed a previous case finding the priority rules can only be raised by states with competing claims.

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BREAKING NEWS: House Passes Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act

Moments ago, the United States House of Representatives (House) passed the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2315) Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2315) by voice vote. The Act will now be delivered to the United States Senate (Senate) for introduction and referral to committee for consideration. While the Senate Committee on Finance has not advanced a companion bill (S. 386) introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in February 2015, the bill currently touts 45 co-sponsors.

Background

The Mobile Workforce Act that passed today was introduced in May 2015 by Representatives Mike Bishop (R-MI) and Hank Johnson (D-GA). As highlighted in our prior coverage, the bill advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee in June 2015 by a vote 23-4. This legislation has been introduced in the House by each Congress since it was first introduced in 2006 by the 109th. While the legislation has seen some degree of success in the House, it has yet to advance beyond the Senate Committee on Finance. Notably, in May 2012, a prior version of the Act was passed in the House, but the Senate Committee on Finance did not take it up for consideration.

The Mobile Workforce Act

While the Mobile Workforce Act has been tweaked over the years, its underlying objective has largely remained the same—to providing a workable, national framework for the administration of, and compliance with, the states’ incongruent withholding and nonresident income tax payment laws. The version of the Act passed by the House today establishes a thirty-day safe harbor for traveling employees from nonresident state personal income taxes, and greatly reduces and simplifies the withholding and reporting burdens and related costs to their employers. Specifically, an employee working in a nonresident state for thirty or fewer days would not pay personal income tax to the nonresident state. Instead, the employee would remain fully taxable in its resident state on these earnings.

Under the Act, employers would not be required to withhold taxes in the nonresident state for employees whose travel falls at or below the thirty-day threshold in the state. In making this determination, the Act allows employers to rely on an employee’s annual determination of the time they will spend working in a state, absent fraud or collusion by the employee. The definition of “employee” has the same meaning given to it by the state in which the employment duties are performed, subject to only a few exceptions (including professional athletes, professional entertainers, and public figures who are persons of prominence who perform services for wages or other remuneration on a per-event basis).

As passed today, the “Act shall take effect on January 1 of the [second] year that begins after the date of the enactment of this Act” and retroactive application is expressly prohibited. Practically speaking, this means that the absolute earliest the Act could take effect is January 1, 2018 (assuming the Senate passes and President approves the Act this year), and would apply to tax obligations that accrue beginning then.

Practice Note

If recent history is any indication, the outlook in the Senate remains somewhat bleak. Looking at the glass half full, the Senate companion bill does enjoys 45 co-sponsors this time around—a figure that has been much less in the past. With elections and a lame-duck session right around the corner, it will be interesting to see if the Senate has an appetite to advance the Act this year.

The two other state tax bills advanced by the House Judiciary Committee last summer (i.e., the Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act of 2015 and the Business Activity Tax Simplification Act of 2015) were not included on this week’s House suspension calendar for consideration.

More significantly in the eyes of many, the House Judiciary Committee has yet to formally consider one of the widely discussed online sales tax bills. This inaction comes amidst legislative and judicial turmoil as states continue to challenge the continued viability of the Quill physical presence standard.

The situation is only expected to get worse, as we understand several states are preparing to introduce South Dakota-style legislation (i.e., similar to S.B. 106) during their upcoming 2017 legislative sessions. As more states follow the lead of aggressive states likes South Dakota and Alabama, the desperation for a Congressional solution will continue to increase. While we applaud the passage of the Mobile Workforce Act, Congress continues to leave the most important issue on the table.

Another Taxpayer Victory in Illinois False Claims Act Litigation, Affirming a Taxpayer’s Right to Rely On Qualified Third Parties For Tax Return Preparation

On August 30, 2016, following a one day bench trial, Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Mulroy ruled in favor of Treasury Wine Estates (“TWE”) in Illinois False Claims Act (“Act”) litigation filed by the law firm of Stephen B. Diamond, PC (“Relator”). Relator alleged that TWE had violated the FCA by knowingly failing to collect and remit Illinois use tax on the shipping and handling charges associated with its internet sales of wine shipped to Illinois customers. State of Ill. ex rel. Stephen B. Diamond, P.C. v. Treasury Wine Estates Americas Company, d/b/a Treasury Wine Estates, No. 14 L 7563 (Cir. Ct. of Cook County, Ill. Aug. 30, 2016) (“Order”). The Court held that Relator failed to prove that TWE knowingly violated the FCA or that it acted in reckless disregard of any Illinois tax collection obligation.

The Court confirmed that an “extreme version of ordinary negligence” standard applies to prove that a defendant “knowingly” violated the FCA by acting in “reckless disregard” of an obligation to pay or transmit money to the State. The Order describes “[t]his standard … [as] meant to reach defendants who intentionally close their eyes, hide their heads in the proverbial sand, and do not make simple inquires which would inform them that false claims are being made.” Order at 14. The Court’s interpretation of the “reckless disregard” standard is consistent with the standard recently established by the Illinois Appellate Court in State of Illinois ex rel. Schad, Diamond & Shedden, P.C. v. National Business Furniture, LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 150526, ¶ 39 (Aug. 1, 2016) and is very favorable for defendants defending against FCA claims. (“Significantly more than an error, mistake, or ordinary negligence is required … to demonstrate reckless disregard in the context of a False Claims Act violation. Relator … needed to prove that defendant ignored obvious warning signs, buried its head in the sand, and refused to learn information from which its duty to pay money to the State would have been obvious.”), aff’g, No. 12 L 84 (Cir. Ct. of Cook County, Ill. Oct. 23, 2014) (citations omitted).

Analyzing the evidence produced at trial, the Court held that it was reasonable for TWE to rely on third party tax consultants to prepare and file its Illinois tax returns, even though TWE did not review the returns before they were filed. The Order states:

Defendant relied on its consultants to do the job for which they were hired, to do the right thing and to be acquainted with Illinois sales tax law.Defendant relied on its preparers’ expertise, experience in the field and representations to ensure its ST-1 forms were accurate. Defendant was faced with the task of filing hundreds of tax returns in many states which have different and conflicting laws. Defendant did what a prudent business would do: it asked for help with navigating the murky waters of Illinois tax law and the challenging task of correctly preparing an Illinois sales tax return. Defendant did not intend to defraud Illinois; it intended to do what Illinois law required and sought expert help to do it. Defendant was not required to check the work of its consultants by seeking advice from other professionals. Defendant was prudent when it sought and paid for advice from companies experienced in its industry and experienced in state tax preparation work.

Order at 15.

The Court also held that the fact that TWE’s tax returns specifically disclosed that TWE was not collecting tax on its shipping charges further supported the conclusion that TWE did not knowingly violate the tax laws.

The Court rejected Relator’s argument that TWE and its advisors acted recklessly based on TWE’s participation in a voluntary disclosure application with respect to time periods prior to time periods at issue in this lawsuit, in which it paid tax on shipping charges. Evidence presented at trial established that the VDA payment was made for administrative convenience; no professional ever told Defendant that tax was due on shipping charges. Evidence was also presented that after the lawsuit was filed, the Department of Revenue advised both TWE and its third party consultant, in separate consultations, that tax was not owed on separately stated shipping charges.

Taxpayers who rely on qualified third party consultants for the preparation of their tax returns, particularly those who expressly disclose their filing practice on their returns, can take comfort from the Court’s conclusion that TWE did not violate the FCA.

The Diamond firm will have 30 days from the date of entry of the Circuit Court’s Order to either seek reconsideration or appeal from the trial court’s ruling.

BREAKING NEWS: Discussion Draft of Online Sales Simplification Act of 2016 Released

Today, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Goodlatte from Virginia, released the long-anticipated discussion draft of the Online Sales Simplification Act of 2016. Highlights of the bill include:

  • The bill implements the Chairman’s much-discussed ‘hybrid-origin’ approach.
  • The bill removes the Quill physical presence requirements for sales tax collection obligations under certain circumstances.
  • States may impose sales tax on remote sales IF the state is the origin state and it participates in a statutory clearinghouse AND the tax uses the origin state base and the destination state rate for participating states (the origin state rate is used if the destination state does not participate in the clearinghouse).
  • A remote seller will only have to remit the tax to its origin state for all remote sales.
  • A destination state may only have one statewide rate for remote sales.
  • Only the origin state may audit a seller for remote sales.
  • States that do not participate in the clearinghouse have significant restrictions on the ability to extract the tax from the remote seller.

Below is a more in-depth discussion of the intricacies of the bill.

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