State and Local Tax Supreme Court Update: June 2014

By and on June 25, 2014

On June 10, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States distributed three state and local tax cases for a conference to be held on June 26, 2014: Equifax, Inc. v. Mississippi Department of Revenue, Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, and Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transportation, Inc.  The Supreme Court previously agreed to hear Comptroller of the Treasury v. Wynne and determine whether Maryland’s disallowance of a credit against its county income tax for taxes paid to other jurisdictions violated the Commerce Clause.  We are eager to see if the Court will opt to hear the remaining three cases, clarifying answers to questions in the world of state taxation.

The taxpayer in Equifax filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on February 19, 2014, appealing a decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court.  The state court upheld the Mississippi Department of Revenue’s application of market-based sourcing as an alternative apportionment formula instead of the statutory cost-of-performance sourcing for apportioning the income of Equifax, a credit reporting company.  In making this determination, the court required the Mississippi chancery courts to use a highly deferential standard of review.  The Institute for Professionals in Taxation, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Council On State Taxation filed amicus curiae briefs.

The Direct Marketing Association filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on February 25, 2014.  The Direct Marketing Association seeks review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that held that the Tax Injunction Act barred federal court jurisdiction over the Direct Marketing Association’s challenge to a Colorado sales and use tax reporting law.  The law requires remote sellers that do not collect Colorado sales or use tax and have total annual gross sales in Colorado of $100,000 or more to inform the customer at the time of sale of the customer’s use tax obligation, to send annual notices to customers who purchased $500 or more in goods from the seller and to file a report with the state regarding a customer’s total purchases.  An amicus curiae brief was filed by the Council On State Taxation.  If the Supreme Court were to hear Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, it would likely clarify the holding of Hibbs v. Winn to better clarify the scope of the TIA’s protection.

On October 30, 2013, the Alabama Department of Revenue filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in CSX Transportation.  The Alabama Department of Revenue is challenging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit’s decision that Alabama’s sales tax on diesel fuel discriminates against rail carriers in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (4-R Act) because motor carriers and interstate water carriers are not required to pay the 4 percent sales tax.  The Supreme Court had previously issued a 2011 opinion stating that the taxpayer could challenge sales and use taxes under the 4-R Act, but the Supreme Court remanded the case to determine whether the tax was discriminatory.  Amicus curiae briefs were filed by the Multistate Tax Commission, the American Trucking Associations, Inc. and the Solicitor General.

Stay tuned to find out whether the Supreme Court will hear Equifax, Inc. v. Mississippi Department of Revenue, Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, and/or Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transportation, Inc. in its next session.

Diann Smith
Diann Smith focuses her practice on state and local taxation and unclaimed property advocacy. Diann advises clients at any stage of an issue, including planning, compliance, controversy, financial statement issues and legislative activity. Her goal is to find the most effective method to achieve a client's objective regardless of when or how an issue arises. Diann emphasizes the importance of defining a client's objective - whether it is finality of a frequently audited issue, quick resolution of a stand-alone tax liability, or avoiding competitive disadvantages in the application of a tax. The defined objective then governs the choice of the path to a solution. Read Diann Smith's full bio.

Stephen P. Kranz
Stephen (Steve) P. Kranz is a tax lawyer who solves tax problems differently. Over the course of his extensive career, Steve has acquired specific skills and developed a unique approach that helps clients develop and implement holistic solutions to all varieties of tax problems. He combines strategic thinking with effective skills for the courtroom, the statehouse and the conference room. Read Stephen Kranz's full bio.




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