Top Hits You May Have Missed

New Mexico Administrative Hearings Office Issues Timely Opinion Regarding State Taxation of Subpart F Income and Dividends from Foreign Affiliates

Oregon Bars Use of Three Factor Apportionment Formula

McDermott Defeats New York False Claims Act Case Alleging Starbucks Failed to Collect and Remit Sales Tax

Looking Forward to June

June 1, 2018: Stephen Kranz presented “Diverse Routes to Resolving SALT Audit Issues” at the Georgetown Law Advanced State and Local Tax Institute in Washington, DC.  Stephen discussed numerous complex audit issues facing tax administrators and taxpayers alike, including avenues for equitable resolution of complex audit issues and evaluation of when litigation is the best means of resolution.

June 5, 2018: Alysse McLoughlin is presenting “Partnership Audit Regulations: The Great Unknown” at the Federation of Tax Administrators Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN.

June 21, 2018: Britt Haxton, Kristen Hazel, Enrica Ma, Jane May, Sandra McGill, Alysse McLoughlin, Maureen O’Brien and Diann Smith are presenting at Tax in the City® New York about the various impacts of tax reform on state and local taxes, digital commerce, cross-border transactions, and compensation structures and fringe benefits. There will also be a CLE/CPE session on the ethical considerations around tax reform. Email Maria Dubinets at mdubinets@mwe.com to register.

June 25, 2018: Alysse McLoughlin is presenting “State Implications of the Federal Partnership Rules” at the Institute for Professionals in Taxation (IPT) Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC.

June 26, 2018: Stephen Kranz is presenting “Taxability of Digital Goods and Services” at the Institute for Professionals in Taxation (IPT) Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC. Stephen will present an overview of US digital taxation, the characterization of tangible personal property, related legislative and administrative developments, and an update on recent litigation in digital tax. He will also provide an overview of best practices, including minimizing sales and use tax on software related transactions as well as audit tips.

June 27, 2018: Jane May is presenting “State Payroll Audits” at the Institute for Professionals in Taxation (IPT) Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC.

June 28, 2018: Stephen Kranz is speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Executive Committee Task Force on State and Local Taxation, Lake Tahoe NV, regarding federal tax reform and next steps on the remote sales tax. He will also present an overview of the South Dakota v. Wayfair Supreme Court oral arguments and upcoming decision.

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

Wrapping Up January – and Looking Forward to February

You can view all of the topics we discussed over the last month here.

Our lawyers will present at the following state and local tax event in February:

February 27, 2018: Diann Smith will be presenting “What’s Trending in State Sales Tax Audit Perspectives: Issues and Trends and Their Proper Reflection” at the 2018 Sales Tax Conference and Audit Session in New Orleans, LA.

On December 4, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its much-anticipated precedential opinion in Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al., v. Secretary of Finance et al., No. 16-4011. The opinion affirms the Third Circuit’s existing view (described in its 2012 New Jersey Retailers Association decision) that US Supreme Court precedent permits a private cause of action to enforce the federal priority rules, overruling the federal district court’s conclusion (in this case and Temple-Inland) that the priority rules only apply to disputes between states. Continue Reading Litigation Alert | Third Circuit Reaffirms Scope of Federal Priority Rules

On October 1, 2017, the Delaware Department of Finance published final regulations in the Register of Regulations repealing its former unclaimed property regulations and promulgating a new reporting and examination manual.  See 21 DE Reg 336 (Oct. 1, 2017).  The final reporting and examination regulation contains no substantive changes from the revised version that was re-proposed on August 1, 2017.  As published, the regulations are set to be adopted and take effect on October 11, 2017. Continue Reading Get Ready for the Countdown: Final Delaware Unclaimed Property Regulations Published

In two weeks, the Delaware Secretary of State (SOS) will begin mailing notices to holders who have been identified as likely being out of compliance with Delaware unclaimed property law. Holders that do not enroll in the SOS Voluntary Disclosure Agreement Program (VDA Program) within 60 days of the mailing of this notice will be referred to the State Escheator for examination. Once an audit notice is issued, the SOS will have no legal ability to accept a holder into its VDA Program.

The VDA Program was put in place to respond to concerns about Delaware’s audit program and allow holders to come into compliance through a “self-audit” that is administered by the holder, as opposed to the State Escheator. The audit is overseen by a third-party provider that must approve the steps taken by the holder, but allows more flexibility in terms of the details and deadlines than a traditional audit. Delaware law requires that every company be provided with an opportunity to voluntarily comply prior to being issued an audit notice. For holders that receive a notice from the SOS in a little over two weeks, this letter will be their one opportunity to voluntarily come forward and enroll in the VDA Program and requires prompt decision making and evaluation, given the 60 days deadline and potentially significant implications.

It is still expected that the final Department of Finance (DOF) regulation required by SB 13 will be included in the October 1, 2017 Register of Regulations. If this holds true, companies currently under a Delaware audit authorized by the State Escheator on or before July 22, 2015, will have 60 days from October 1 (i.e., until November 30, 2017) to convert to the SOS VDA Program. Again, the same analysis and implications are at stake.

Practice Note

There is a lot for holders to consider in a very short period of time. Holders should be aware that there are may be more than the single, historic third-party provider in charge of administering the SOS VDA Program. Adding new providers creates uncertainty in the process and it is not clear how holders will be assigned to each provider.

Holders in need of advice on whether to enroll in the SOS VDA Program should reach out to the authors to discuss their options. Stay tuned for our analysis of the final DOF regulation, which will be posted shortly after publication.

On August 1, the Delaware Department of Finance (DOF) published a revised version of its proposed reporting and examination manual regulation addressing audit procedures and method of estimation.  See 21 DE Reg 123 (Aug. 1, 2017). The revised proposed regulation is substantially similar to the first draft proposed earlier this year, but contains a dozen or so notable differences (described in more detail below). Because the former draft of the regulation was never finalized, the 60-day time period for eligible holders to convert to the Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) Program (administered by the Secretary of State) or an expedited audit has not started to run, and will not commence until the final DOF regulation is published in the monthly Register of Regulations. Based on the fact that the DOF is accepted comments through August 31, 2017 (and likely needs at least a month to take them into consideration), the final regulation is not expected to be published before October 1, 2017, giving eligible holders at least three more months before the looming conversion deadline.

Our summary of the initial regulations proposed by the DOF and Secretary of State (SOS) on April 1, 2017 is available here. The final SOS VDA estimation regulation was published on July 1, 2017, without substantive amendments. See 21 DE Reg 50 (July 1, 2017). Below is a brief summary of the key differences between the old and new proposed DOF reporting and examination manual that holder’s should be aware of.

Continue Reading Delaware (Re)Proposes Unclaimed Property Reporting and Examination Manual Regulation

On August 9, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Third Circuit), overruling the US District Court for the District of Delaware (District Court), allowed a claim by a holder seeking to prevent an unclaimed property audit by Delaware on due process grounds to proceed. See Plains All American Pipeline L.P. v. Cook et al., No. 16-3631 (3d Cir. Aug. 9, 2017).  The procedural due process claim challenges Delaware’s use of auditors that have a stake in the assessment. Consistent with the District Court decision, the Third Circuit held that challenges to Delaware’s estimation methodology were ruled not ripe. The case has been remanded to the District Court for further proceedings.

Continue Reading Resistance is not Always Futile: New Decision in Ongoing Delaware Unclaimed Property Audit Litigation

The No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 (NRWRA) is scheduled for a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on Tuesday, July 25 at 10:00 am EDT in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building. The bill was introduced by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) last month with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) as one of seven original co-sponsors. As described in more detail below, the bill would codify the Bellas Hess “physical presence” requirement upheld by the US Supreme Court in Quill and make that requirement applicable to sales, use and other similar transactional taxes, notice and reporting requirements, net income taxes and other business activity taxes. Extending the concept to an area far beyond state taxation, the bill would also require the same physical presence for a state or locality to regulate the out-of-state production, manufacturing or post-sale disposal of any good or service sold to locations within its jurisdictional borders.

In the last Congress, the Business Activity Tax Simplification Act of 2015 (BATSA) would have codified a physical presence requirement in the context of business activity taxes (e.g., net income and gross receipts taxes). However, the scope of NRWRA’s limitations on interstate regulation and tax differs from the standard set forth in BATSA. Specifically, under BATSA, assigning an employee to a state constitutes physical presence, whereas under NRWRA a company does not have physical presence until it employs more than two employees in the state (or a single employee if he or she is in the state and provides design, installation or repair services or “substantially assists” in establishing or maintaining a market). Under NRWRA, activities related to the potential or actual purchase of goods or services in the state or locality are not a physical presence if the final decision to purchase is made outside of the jurisdiction. Continue Reading House Judiciary Subcommittee to Consider Sensenbrenner Bill Tomorrow

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