Is California Picking the Pockets of Other States?

In Matter of Body Wise International LLC (OTA Case No. 19125567; 2022 – OTA – 340P), a California-based retailer collected amounts designated as “tax” related to jurisdictions where it was not registered to collect tax. The California Office of Tax Appeals (OTA) held that the retailer must remit those amounts to California, even though the sales were not taxable in California, because the retailer did not actually pay the “tax” amounts it collected to the other states nor did it refund those amounts to its customers.

Body Wise International, LLC sold weight loss supplements to customers across the country and shipped the products directly to customers via common carrier from its warehouse in California. During the periods at issue, Body Wise’s tax software program charged a “Tax Amount” on all sales to customers located in various states based upon the respective tax rates in those other states. In states where Body Wise had not registered to charge or collect tax, Body Wise did not remit the “tax” collected to those states.

On audit, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) determined that the “Tax Amounts” Body Wise collected in those other states constituted excess sales tax reimbursements under California Revenue & Taxation Code (R&TC) section 6901.5, which provides that a retailer who collects a sales tax reimbursement exceeding the amount of the sales tax liability imposed upon the sale must remit the excess to the customer or to the state. CDTFA concluded that those amounts collected but not paid over to the other states must either be returned to the customer or remitted to California.

Upon appeal, the OTA agreed with CDTFA. OTA first observed, “it is not necessary for a sale, purchase, or any other type of transfer for consideration to be subject to California’s sales tax in order for the excess tax reimbursement provisions of R&TC section 6901.5 to apply.” Rather, OTA then stated, the requirement to remit or refund excess sales tax reimbursement to CDTFA applied to Body Wise even where the underlying transaction was nontaxable or exempt in California. Based upon this, OTA concluded that Body Wise must remit those amounts collected to California. OTA supported its conclusion by observing that Body Wise was not registered to collect sales tax in some or all of the other states.

However, logically, the excess tax reimbursement covered by the statute must be excess California tax reimbursement in the first instance. Indeed, the statute by its own terms expressly applies to “taxes due under this part [the California Sales and Use Tax Law].” (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 6901.5.) Because these were not taxes due to California but ostensibly to the other states, California’s attempt to abscond with revenues belonging to another state would appear to be unconstitutional as violating the sovereignty of that other state.

The OTA’s conclusion would seem to be at odds with the important maxim of statutory construction to avoid an interpretation of the statute that would render it [...]

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More than Tax Compliance: California Legislation Requires Marketplace Facilitators to Track “High-Volume” Seller Information

The responsibilities of marketplace facilitators operating in California are expanding under legislation recently signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. Starting on July 1, 2023, an “online marketplace” will be required to collect and maintain specified contact and financial information related to its “high-volume third-party sellers.” The legislation is intended to “provide greater tools for law enforcement to identify stolen items” being resold through online marketplaces.

Under the legislation, a “high-volume third-party seller” is defined as any seller who, in any continuous 12‑month period during the previous 24 months, has entered into 200 or more transactions through an online marketplace for the sale of consumer products to buyers located in California, resulting in a total of $5,000 or more in gross revenues. While the legislation includes its own definition of an “online marketplace,” the definition will likely reach most (if not all) businesses classified as “marketplace facilitators” for California sales tax purposes.

An online marketplace will be required to collect information about any high-volume third-party seller on its platform, including the seller’s name, tax ID number and bank account number (presuming the seller has a bank account), along with certain government-issued records or tax documents if the seller is not an individual. For those sellers making at least 200 sales totaling at least $20,000 in gross revenues to buyers in California, an online marketplace must collect additional information, disclose certain contact information to consumers and provide a means to allow users “to have direct and unhindered communication with the seller.”

Information collected about sellers must be verified within 10 days and be maintained for at least two years, and the online marketplace must suspend sales activities of a high-volume third-party seller out of compliance with the requirements of the legislation. An online marketplace not in compliance with the legislation will be subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.

Businesses impacted by this legislative development or with questions about marketplace facilitators are encouraged to contact the authors of this article.




Tax That DC?!?! FCA Suit on Residency Brings Business Intelligence Company into the Crosshairs

For the first time since the enactment of the False Claims Amendment Act of 2020, the DC Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office has used its new tax enforcement powers to pursue an alleged personal income tax deficiency. This development brings to the forefront a long-simmering constitutional problem with DC’s statutory residency law and offers a stern warning to businesses that assist key employees and executives with their personal tax obligations.

The press rapidly and widely reported on DC’s lawsuit against MicroStrategy Co-Founder, Executive Chairman and former CEO Michael Saylor for alleged evasion of D.C. personal income taxes, which was made public this week. The case alleges that Saylor wrongly claimed that he was a resident of Virginia or Florida (rather than DC) since at least 2012.

The case was originally brought under seal by a relator under DC’s False Claims Act in April 2021—less than one month after the False Claims Amendment Act took effect. Using its new tax authority, the DC AG’s Office filed a complaint last week to intervene (taking over the case going forward). Interestingly, when the DC AG’s Office took over the case, it added MicroStrategy as a defendant under the theory that the company conspired to help Saylor evade DC personal income taxes. Under DC’s False Claims Act, both Saylor and MicroStrategy could be liable for treble damages if a court rules in favor of the DC AG’s Office.

ISSUES WITH DC’S “STATUTORY RESIDENCY” TEST

While determining where an individual is a resident for state and local tax purposes generally requires a fact-intensive analysis, the case against Saylor also implicates DC’s unique (and likely unconstitutional) statutory residency standard. DC’s statute is fundamentally different than statutory residency standards in other states. Most states only tax individuals having their domicile in the state as residents, while some states also have a “statutory residency” test to classify individuals as taxable residents. In most states, a person is classified as a statutory resident if they (1) maintain a permanent place of abode in the jurisdiction and (2) spend more than a specific number of days (typically 183 days) in the jurisdiction.

DC truncates this standard and classifies someone as a statutory resident if they merely maintain a personal place of abode in DC for more than 183 days. Thus, no amount of actual presence of the individual in DC is required. The problem created by this one-of-a-kind standard should be obvious: someone can (as many high-net-worth individuals often do) maintain a residence for 183 days in more than one jurisdiction. Thus, the plain language of the statute would violate the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution because it runs afoul of the internal consistency test. Under this test, a statute is unconstitutional if under a hypothetical situation in which every jurisdiction has the same law as the one being challenged, more than 100% of the tax base would be subject to tax. Here, if every state had a statutory residency test applicable to anyone who had a [...]

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Fatally Flawed? Illinois Municipal League’s Model Streaming Subscription Tax

The Illinois Municipal League (IML) represents the interests of 219 home rule municipalities in Illinois.[1] The IML recently released a revised draft model, “Municipal Streaming Tax Ordinance,” (the model) for use by the home rule municipalities in imposing an “amusement tax” on, inter alia, music and video streaming services and online gaming.[2] If the subscriber’s residential street address is within the corporate limits of the municipality, the subscription fee would be subject to the tax.[3] However, the tax proposed by the model has at least two fatal flaws: it is barred by the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) as a discriminatory tax on electronic commerce and is an unconstitutional extraterritorial tax under the home rule article of the Illinois Constitution.[4]

NATURE OF THE STREAMING TAX

The model proposes a tax on the privilege of viewing an amusement, including electronic amusements that either “take place within the” municipality or are delivered to subscribers “with a primary place of use within the jurisdictional boundaries of” the municipality.[5] The model incorporates the definition of “place of primary use” from the Illinois Mobile Telecommunications Sourcing Conformity Act.[6] That statute requires sourcing to the subscriber’s “residential street address.”[7] The streaming tax operates like a familiar sales tax in that it is imposed on the subscriber but collected by the streaming provider and remitted to the municipality.[8] The model tax would also be imposed on “paid television programming” (sat TV), but not paid radio programming (sat radio), transmitted by satellite.[9] The tax is not imposed on transactions that confer “the rights for permanent use of an electronic amusement” on the customer.[10]

THE NATURE OF MUSIC AND VIDEO STREAMING AND ONLINE GAMING SUBSCRIPTIONS

There are many service providers that allow internet access to the databases of music, videos and games (content). Customers typically enter into an automatically renewing subscription agreement with the provider that allows access to a database such that the subscriber can “stream” the content from any fixed or mobile device with internet connectivity. Subscribers are able to access the content from anywhere at anytime so long as their subscription is current and they have internet access.

Because the subscription fees are paid in advance, there is no way for either the provider or the subscriber to know where and when the subscriber might access the content, if at all, during the month. Also, because the streaming tax proposed under the model is on the subscription fee, the tax must be collected before any streaming occurs. It may be that the subscriber doesn’t access the content either from within the corporate limits of the municipality or at all during the subscription period.

FATAL FLAWS

1. Barred Discriminatory Tax on Electronic Commerce

The ITFA generally bars state and local taxes that discriminate against electronic commerce.[11] A tax discriminates against electronic commerce if it is imposed on transactions that occur over the internet but not [...]

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New Mexico Proposes Regulations Addressing Gross Receipts Tax Treatment of Digital Advertising Services

On August 9, 2022, the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department published proposed regulations addressing the gross receipts tax (New Mexico’s version of a sales tax) treatment of digital advertising services. The Department states the proposed regulations do not reflect a change in policy but instead ensure the rules are consistent for all advertising platforms.

While the proposed regulations provide some clarity regarding the taxation of digital advertising services under preexisting rules, they introduce several inconsistencies and other gaps, particularly with respect to the finer details of the sourcing provisions. For example, we believe the proposed regulations leave ambiguity regarding whether gross receipts from the provision of digital advertising services should be sourced to:

  1. The purchaser’s address
  2. The server’s location
  3. The viewer’s location

Separately, the proposed regulations would allow a deduction for gross receipts from national or regional advertising. However, the deduction is not allowed if the purchaser is incorporated in or has its principal place of business in New Mexico. While this significantly narrows the base for the tax, it injects complexity by requiring that the seller know the state in which its purchaser is incorporated or has its principal place of business, information not likely available in the context of internet-based advertising platforms.

Collectively, these inconsistencies and lack of clarity could lead to future compliance issues, which we hope will be mitigated as part of the Department’s regulatory approval process.

The Department scheduled a public hearing on the proposed rules for September 8, 2022, at 10:00 am MDT, which also is the due date for submission of written comments. The proposed regulations would be effective upon publication in the New Mexico Register, which could happen as soon as October 11, 2022 (or thereabout).

Please contact the McDermott Will & Emery State & Local Tax team if you have any questions about the potential impact of these proposed regulations on your company. In the meantime, we will be monitoring the regulation approval process and participating in next month’s public hearing.




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