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BREAKING NEWS: US Supreme Court Denies Cert in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl

This morning, the US Supreme Court announced that it denied certiorari in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, which was on appeal from the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The denied petitions were filed this fall by both the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Colorado, with the Colorado cross-petition explicitly asking the Court to broadly reconsider Quill. In light of this, many viewed this case a potential vehicle to judicially overturn the Quill physical presence standard.

Practice Note:  Going forward, the Tenth Circuit decision upholding the constitutionality of Colorado’s notice and reporting law stands, and is binding in the Tenth Circuit (which includes Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma as well). While this development puts an end to this particular kill-Quill movement, there are a number of other challenges in the pipeline that continue to move forward.

In particular, the Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that the Ohio Commercial Activity Tax, a gross-receipts tax, is not subject to the Quill physical presence standard. A cert petition is expected in this case, and could provide another opportunity for the US Supreme Court to speak on the remote sales tax issue. In addition, litigation is pending in South Dakota and Alabama over economic nexus laws implemented earlier this year. A motion hearing took place before the US District Court for the District of South Dakota last week on whether the Wayfair case should be remanded back to state court. If so, the litigation would be subject to the expedited appeal procedures implemented by SB 106 (2016), and would be fast tracked for US Supreme Court review. Tennessee also recently adopted a regulation implementing an economic nexus standard for sales and use tax purposes that directly conflicts with Quill that is expected to be implemented (and challenged) in 2017. While Governor Bill Haslam has praised the effort, state legislators have been outspoken against the attempt to circumvent the legislature and impose a new tax. Notably, the Joint Committee on Government Operations still needs to approve the regulation for it to take effect, with the economic nexus regulation included in the rule packet scheduled for review by the committee this Thursday, December 15, 2016.

All this action comes at a time when states are gearing up to begin their 2017 legislative sessions, with many rumored to be preparing South Dakota-style economic nexus legislation for introduction. While DMA is dead as an option, the movement to overturn Quill continues and the next few months are expected to be extremely active in this area. Stay tuned to Inside SALT for the most up-to-date developments.




Digital Tax Update – Local Edition

After the highly publicized administrative lease transaction and amusement tax expansions in Chicago last year, more cities around the country are taking steps to impose transaction taxes on the sale or rental of digital content. Unlike tax expansion efforts at the state level (such as the law recently passed in Pennsylvania), which have almost all been tackled legislatively, the local governments are addressing the issue without clear legislative authority by issuing administrative guidance and taking aggressive positions on audit. As the local tax threat facing digital providers turns from an isolated incident to a nationwide trend, we wanted to highlight some of the more significant local tax developments currently on our radar.

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Unclaimed Property Hunger Games: States Seek Supreme Court Review in ‘Official Check’ Dispute

Background

As detailed in our blog last month, MoneyGram Payment Systems, Inc. (MoneyGram) is stuck in between a rock and a hard place as states continue to duel with Delaware over the proper classification of (and priority rules applicable to) MoneyGram’s escheat liability for uncashed “official checks.”  The dispute hinges on whether the official checks are properly classified as third-party bank checks (as Delaware directed MoneyGram to remit them as) or are more similar to “money orders” (as alleged by Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and numerous other states participating in a recent audit of the official checks by third-party auditor TSG). If classified as third-party bank checks, the official checks would be subject to the federal common law priority rules set forth in Texas v. New Jersey, 379 U.S. 674 (1965) and escheat to MoneyGram’s state of incorporation (Delaware) since the company’s books and records do not indicate the apparent owner’s last known address under the first priority rule. However, if the official checks are classified as more akin to money orders under the federal Disposition of Abandoned Money Orders and Traveler’s Checks Act of 1974 (Act), as determined by TSG and demanded by Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the other states, they would be subject to the special statutory priority rules enacted by Congress in response the Supreme Court of the United States’ Pennsylvania v. New York decision and escheat to the state where they were purchased. See 12 U.S.C. § 2503(1) (providing that where any sum is payable on a money order on which a business association is directly liable, the state in which the money order was purchased shall be entitled exclusively to escheat or take custody of the sum payable on such instrument).

In addition to the suit filed by the Pennsylvania Treasury Department seeking more than $10 million from Delaware covered in our prior blog, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue recently filed a similar complaint in federal district court in Wisconsin, alleging Delaware owes the state in excess of $13 million. Other states participating in the TSG audit (such as Arkansas, Colorado and Texas) also recently made demands to MoneyGram and Delaware.

It is interesting to note that in 2015, Minnesota (MoneyGram’s former state of incorporation) turned over in excess of $200,000 to Pennsylvania upon its demand for amounts previously remitted to Minnesota for MoneyGram official checks. Apparently not only do the states in which the transaction occurred disagree with but even a former state of incorporation took the majority path.   (more…)




SCOTUS: Colorado Notice and Reporting Challenge Not Barred by the Tax Injunction Act

The United States Supreme Court released a unanimous decision today holding that the Tax Injunction Act (TIA), 28 U.S.C. § 1391, does not bar suit in federal court to enjoin the enforcement of Colorado notice and reporting requirements imposed on noncollecting out-of-state retailers. See Direct Marketing Ass’n v. Brohl, No. 13-1032, 575 U.S. ___ (March 3, 2015), available here. These requirements, enacted in 2010, require retailers to (1) notify Colorado purchasers that tax is due on their purchases; (2) send annual notices to Colorado customers who purchased more than $500 in goods in the preceding year, “reminding” these purchasers of their obligation to pay sales tax to the state; and (3) report information on Colorado purchasers to the state’s tax authorities. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112(3.5). The TIA provides that federal district courts “shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law.”

The Court’s Opinion

The Court held that although the notice and reporting requirements are part of Colorado’s overall assessment and collection process, none of the requirements constitute an “assessment,” “levy,” or “collection” within the meaning of the TIA. Specifically, the Court looked to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) to determine that the terms are “discrete phrases of the taxation process that do not include informational notice or private reports of information relevant to tax liability.” See Slip Op. at 5-8 (noting that no “assessment” or “collection” within the meaning of the IRC occurs until there is a recording of the amount the taxpayer owes the Government, which the notice and reporting requirements precede).  Justice Thomas, who authored the opinion, concluded that “[t]he TIA is keyed to the acts of assessment, levy, and collection themselves, and enforcement of the notice and reporting requirements is none of these.” Id. at 9.

The Court rejected the Tenth Circuit’s reliance on (and expansive interpretation of) the term “restrain” in the TIA.  Justice Thomas explained that such a broad reading of the statute would “defeat the precision” of the specifically enumerated terms and allow courts to expand the TIA beyond its statutory meaning to “virtually any court action related to any phase of taxation.” Id. at 11.  Instead, he assigned the same meaning to “restrain” that it has in equity for TIA purposes, which is consistent with its roots and the Anti-Injunction Act (the TIA’s federal counterpart).  Therefore, the Court concluded that “a suit cannot be understood to ‘restrain’ the ‘assessment, levy or collection’ of a state tax if it merely inhibits those activities.” Id. at 12.

The Court’s decision took “no position on whether a suit such as this one might nevertheless be barred under the ‘comity doctrine,’” under which federal courts – as a matter of discretion, not jurisdiction – refrain from “interfering with the fiscal operations of the state governments in all cases where the Federal rights of persons could otherwise be preserved unimpaired.” Id. at 13. The Court left it to the Tenth Circuit on remand [...]

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State and Local Tax Supreme Court Update: June 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 [...]

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