The Washington State Department of Revenue (the “Department”) recently announced its interpretation of the Washington Court of Appeals’ March 30, 2020, adverse ruling in LendingTree, LLC v. Dep’t of Revenue, no. 80637-8-I (Wash. App. Ct. Mar. 30, 2020). See here for our prior analysis of the LendingTree opinion. In its interpretation, the Department takes the view that the LendingTree opinion “does not represent a new legal framework,” but rather that the court simply followed the applicable business and occupation tax apportionment rules in sourcing service receipts to the customer’s location and rejecting the Department’s methodology sourcing to the customers’ customers’ location.
The Department’s response suggests that it intends to narrowly apply LendingTree‘s holding. The Department admits that the court agreed with LendingTree in designating the service at issue to be LendingTree’s referral services (lenders pay a fee to receive referrals of potential borrowers) and rejected the Department’s characterization of the service as marketing and outreach to potential borrowers. Under this characterization, the Department observes, in accordance with a Washington regulation sourcing services to where the customer’s related business activity occurs, the referral services are sourced to the lender’s location, where lenders evaluate the referrals received by LendingTree.
The response goes on to emphasize, however, that there are circumstances where the Department will continue to source service receipts to a customer’s customers’ location. The Department announced that one such circumstance would be for taxpayers who have revenues from the sale of marketing or advertising services to a customer engaged in the business of selling.
Taxpayers should be forewarned that despite the LendingTree ruling, they may still have to battle Department efforts to source service receipts based on the location of their customers’ customers (particularly if they are engaged in the sale of marketing or advertising services), despite a Washington statute requiring service receipts to be sourced to the customer and federal constitutional principles requiring that an apportionment method reflect a taxpayer’s in-state activity. (See: e.g., Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Jefferson Lines, 514 U.S. 175 (1995); Container Corp. of America v. Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. 159 (1983).) Unfortunately, it appears that “look through” sourcing disputes between taxpayers and the Department will continue.