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Kathleen Quinn focuses her practice on state and local tax matters. She represents business and individual taxpayers at all stages of state and local tax controversies, including the audit, administrative, and judicial levels. Kathleen also advises clients on state and local tax planning opportunities and the state and local tax consequences of corporate restructurings and other business transactions. Read Kathleen Quinn's full bio. 

On April 9, 2018, the New York State Supreme Court granted Starbucks’ motion to dismiss claims that it had failed to collect more than $10 million of sales tax at its New York stores. Lawyers from McDermott’s State and Local Tax (SALT) group and its White Collar and Securities Defense team handled the matter.

A unique feature of New York law is that the attorney general and private qui tam plaintiffs are permitted to bring New York False Claims Act (NYFCA) actions under New York Financial Law for “claims, records, or statements made under the tax law.” Fin. L. 198(4)(a)(i)-(iii). Under federal law and the law of most states, there is no False Claims Act liability for tax issues. But in New York, the attorney general and private plaintiffs can pursue False Claims Act cases for failure to comply with tax law. There have been numerous large settlements and judgments issued against major companies under the NYFCA, including one settlement for $40 million. See A.G. Schneiderman Announces $40 Million Settlement With Investment Management Company for Tax Abuses, Marking Largest Whistleblower Recovery in Office’s History (April 18, 2017). If successful, qui tam plaintiffs can recover a 25 – 30 percent share of the amount recovered, together with costs and attorneys’ fees. Fin. L. § 190(6)(b).

In this case, two private relator plaintiffs alleged that Starbucks failed to collect sales tax on warmed and “to-go” food items over a 10-year period. The relators filed a complaint, under seal, on or about June 11, 2015, with the New York Attorney General (AG). The AG declined to intervene. On June 30, 2017, the relators elected to proceed on their own with the lawsuit and filed a complaint seeking a judgment for at least $10 million in allegedly unpaid sales tax, as well as treble damages, civil penalties and attorneys’ fees. There was no allegation that Starbucks had failed to properly pay New York taxes that it had previously collected and was holding improperly. The relators’ allegations were solely based on their claim that Starbucks had under-collected sales tax from its New York customers.

On behalf of Starbucks, McDermott filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Starbucks properly collects and pays its taxes to the State of New York and that Starbucks has consistently worked cooperatively with auditors from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. McDermott further argued that the relators “survey” of purchases at Starbucks locations and anecdotal conversations with Starbucks employees failed to properly allege that Starbucks violated the tax law or engaged in any fraud.

On November 10, 2017, the court held oral argument. On April 9, 2018, the Honorable James d’Auguste agreed with McDermott’s arguments and dismissed the case. See State of New York ex rel. James A. Hunter & Keenan D. Kmiec v. Starbucks Corporation, No. 101069/15, Dkt No. 40 (Sup Ct. April 9, 2018). The court held that the relators failed to properly allege that Starbucks had knowingly avoided or recklessly disregarded the law. Id. at 15. The court also opined that “the Survey was not scientifically performed and plaintiffs’ Survey was unsupported by any expert review or report.” Id. at 17. Finally, the court concluded that “plaintiffs’ allegations that Starbucks’ illegal practices were ongoing for a decade before this action was started and that it suffered $10 million in damages are based purely on speculation.” Id. at 17.

McDermott’s SALT and White Collar and Securities Defense teams joined forces in representing Starbucks in connection with this matter. The team consisted of Todd Harrison, Steve Kranz, Mark Yopp, Joseph B. Evans, Kathleen Quinn and Samuel Ashworth.

Full Case Name:          State of New York ex rel. James A. Hunter & Keenan D. Kmiec v. Starbucks Corporation, No. 101069/15 (Sup Ct. April 9, 2018)

Court:                           New York State Supreme Court

Justice:                         James E. d’Auguste

Opposing Counsel:     Hunter and Kmiec

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Administrative Hearings Office issued an opinion that addressed the questions on the minds of many state tax professionals in the wake of federal tax reform: under what circumstances can a state constitutionally impose tax on a domestic company’s income from foreign subsidiaries, including Subpart F income, and when is factor representation required? These issues have recently received renewed attention in the state tax world due to the new federal laws providing additions to income for foreign earnings deemed repatriated under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 965 and for global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI). Since many state income taxes are based on federal taxable income, inclusion of these new categories of income at the federal level can potentially result in inclusion of this same income at the state level, triggering significant constitutional issues.

In Matter of General Electric Company & Subsidiaries, a New Mexico Hearing Officer determined that the inclusion of dividends and Subpart F income from foreign subsidiaries in General Electric’s state tax base did not violate the Foreign Commerce Clause, even though dividends from domestic affiliates were excluded from the state tax base, because General Electric filed on a consolidated group basis with its domestic affiliates. Continue Reading New Mexico Administrative Hearings Office Issues Timely Opinion Regarding State Taxation of Subpart F Income and Dividends from Foreign Affiliates

In Health Net Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, Docket No. S063625 (Apr. 12, 2018), the Oregon Supreme Court rejected a business taxpayer’s constitutional challenges to a 1993 Oregon statute that eliminated the right to utilize a three-factor apportionment formula in calculating Oregon income tax. The Oregon Supreme Court joined courts in Texas, Minnesota, California and Michigan in rejecting taxpayer arguments that states which have enacted Article IV of the Multistate Tax Compact, thereby incorporating the UDITPA three-factor (payroll, property and sales) formula, have entered into a binding contractual obligation which may not be overridden.

Oregon enacted UDITPA in 1965 (ORS 314.605 – 314.675) and the Multistate Tax Compact (including Article IV) (ORS 305.655), in 1967. In 1993, however, following a series of amendments to the apportionment formula in Oregon’s version of UDITPA, which moved the state to a single sales factor formula, the Oregon legislature eliminated taxpayers’ ability to elect the three factor apportionment formula incorporated via ORS 305.655.

In Health Net, the taxpayer argued that when Oregon enacted the MTC in 1967, it had entered into a binding contract with other states that was violated by the state’s 1993 elimination of the three factor apportionment formula, in violation of the Contract Clause of the state and US constitutions. In Oregon, a statute is considered “a contractual promise only if the legislature has clearly and unmistakably expressed its intent to create a contract.”  The Oregon Supreme Court determined that the text, context, and legislative history of ORS 305.655 did not “clearly and unmistakably” establish that the Oregon legislature intended to execute a binding contract with other states. The court found ORS 305.655 to have only created statutory obligations—according to the majority, it was a uniform law, not a compact—and, thus, there was no Contract Clause violation.

Continue Reading Oregon Bars Use of Three Factor Apportionment Formula

Minnesota has several bills pending that would address the Minnesota state tax implications of various provisions of the federal tax reform legislation (commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act).

HF 2942

HF 2942 was introduced in the House on February 22, 2018. This bill would provide conformity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) as of December 31, 2017, including for corporate taxpayers. The bill makes clear that, with respect to the computation of Minnesota net income, the conformity to the Internal Revenue Code as amended through December 31, 2017, would be effective retroactively such that the federal provisions providing for the deemed repatriation of foreign earnings could have implications in Minnesota. Continue Reading Overview of Minnesota’s Response to Federal Tax Reform

It’s been nearly three months since the federal tax reform bill (commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or “TCJA”) was enacted and states continue to respond to the various provisions of the TCJA. Recently, there have been notable legislative efforts in New York, Idaho, Iowa and Minnesota.

New York

Starting with the release of the Governor’s Budget Bill in January 2018, the 30-day amendments to that Bill on February 15, and the amendments to the Assembly Bill and Senate Bill this month, there has been much action this legislative session concerning the potential response to federal tax reform. The proposed response in the two latest bills—the Assembly Bill (AB 9509) and the Senate Bill (SB 7509)—is discussed below. Continue Reading More States Respond to Federal Tax Reform

Virginia and Georgia are two of the latest states to pass laws responding to the federal tax reform passed in December 2017, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Both states updated their codes to conform to the current Internal Revenue Code (IRC) with some notable exceptions.

Virginia

On February 22, 2018, and February 23, 2018, the Virginia General Assembly enacted Chapter 14 (SB 230) and Chapter 15 (HB 154) of the 2018 Session Virginia Acts of Assembly, respectively. Before this legislation was enacted, the Virginia Code conformed to the IRC in effect as of December 31, 2016. While the new legislation conforms the Virginia Code to the IRC effective as of February 9, 2018, there are some very notable exceptions. The legislation explicitly provides that the Virginia Code does not conform to most provisions of the TCJA with an exception for “any… provision of the [TCJA] that affects the computation of federal adjusted gross income of individuals or federal taxable income of corporations for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2016 and before January 1, 2018…” Thus, despite Virginia’s update of its IRC conformity date, Virginia largely decouples from the TCJA. Continue Reading Southeast States Respond to Federal Tax Reform and NJ Senate Leader Talks Tax Surcharge to Limit Corporate “Windfall”

New York is the latest state to address certain state tax implications of the 2017 federal tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day amendments to the Governor’s Budget Bill were released on February 15 and one piece of the amended Bill explicitly addresses the foreign-earnings, deemed federal repatriation provisions in the new section 965 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Even before the release of the 30-day amendments, we expected the amount of foreign earnings deemed repatriated and brought into the federal income tax base under IRC § 965 would be considered “other exempt income” under the New York Tax Law and, thus, not subject to tax in New York as long as received from a unitary subsidiary. However, the Governor’s 30-day amendments make it clear that any amount included in the federal tax base under the repatriation transition provisions would be excludable from income, even if such amounts were received from a non-unitary subsidiary. This proposed exclusion for amounts deemed received from non-unitary subsidiaries is an expansion of New York’s usual policy. This expansion, however, would apply only with respect to the deemed repatriation of foreign earnings under IRC § 965.

The 30-day amendments also would make clear the federal deduction permitted under IRC § 965(c) (which facilitates a reduction of the effective federal tax rate on the deemed repatriated foreign earnings) would not be allowed in computing New York taxable income. We expected New York would make this proposed change because disallowing the § 965(c) deduction from New York taxable income would be consistent with excluding the deemed repatriation from taxable income.

Unlike other states, i.e., Connecticut, the Governor’s Bill does not address the amount of expenses attributable to the amount deemed repatriated under IRC § 965 and includable in the New York tax base. The Governor’s Bill would, however, provide that no penalties would be imposed for any failure to make sufficient estimated payments if the short-fall in payments is due to the increase in tax resulting from the inability to deduct such expenses from taxable income.

Please reach out to us with any questions about New York’s proposed treatment of the federal repatriation provisions or other questions about the potential law changes in New York.

Earlier this month, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy released his Governor’s Bill addressing the various state tax implications of the federal tax reform bill enacted by Congress in December 2017, commonly referred to as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” Among other things, the Governor’s Bill addresses Connecticut’s treatment of the foreign earning deemed repatriation tax provisions of amended section 965 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). While the Governor’s Bill does not explicitly provide that the addition to federal income under IRC section 965 is an actual dividend for purposes of Connecticut’s dividend received deduction, the bill does protect Connecticut’s ability to tax at least part of the income brought into the federal tax base under the federal deemed repatriation tax provisions by defining nondeductible “expenses related to dividends” as 10 percent of the amount of the dividend. Continue Reading Connecticut Responds to the Federal Repatriation Tax

In a recent decision, the New Jersey Tax Court provided some long-awaited guidance on the “unreasonable” exception to the state’s related-party intangible expense add-back provision. In BMC Software, Inc v. Div. of Taxation, No 000403-2012 (2017), the Tax Court held that payments made by a subsidiary to its parent for a software distribution license were intangible expenses that were subject to the add-back provision, but that the statutory exception for “unreasonable” adjustments applied so that the subsidiary was able to deduct the expenses in computing its Corporation Business Tax (CBT). The court first determined that the expense was an intangible expense and not the sale of tangible personal property between the entities because the contract specifically called the fee a royalty, the parent reported the income as royalty income and the parent retained full ownership of the intellectual property rights indicating that no sale had taken place. Thus, the court determined that the intangible expense add-back provision did apply. The most interesting aspect of this case, however, was the court’s application of the “unreasonable” exception to the intangible expense add-back provision because that had not yet been addressed by the courts in New Jersey.

The Tax Court established two critical points with respect to the add-back of related-party intangible expenses: first, that the “unreasonable” exception does not require a showing that the related-party recipient paid CBT on the income from the taxpayer; and secondly, that a showing that the related-party transaction was “substantively equivalent” to a transaction with an unrelated party is sufficient evidence that the add-back is “unreasonable.” Continue Reading Favorable Guidance from the New Jersey Tax Court on the ‘Unreasonable’ Exception to the Related-Party Intangible Expense Add-back

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.