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Tax That DC?!?! FCA Suit on Residency Brings Business Intelligence Company into the Crosshairs

For the first time since the enactment of the False Claims Amendment Act of 2020, the DC Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office has used its new tax enforcement powers to pursue an alleged personal income tax deficiency. This development brings to the forefront a long-simmering constitutional problem with DC’s statutory residency law and offers a stern warning to businesses that assist key employees and executives with their personal tax obligations.

The press rapidly and widely reported on DC’s lawsuit against MicroStrategy Co-Founder, Executive Chairman and former CEO Michael Saylor for alleged evasion of D.C. personal income taxes, which was made public this week. The case alleges that Saylor wrongly claimed that he was a resident of Virginia or Florida (rather than DC) since at least 2012.

The case was originally brought under seal by a relator under DC’s False Claims Act in April 2021—less than one month after the False Claims Amendment Act took effect. Using its new tax authority, the DC AG’s Office filed a complaint last week to intervene (taking over the case going forward). Interestingly, when the DC AG’s Office took over the case, it added MicroStrategy as a defendant under the theory that the company conspired to help Saylor evade DC personal income taxes. Under DC’s False Claims Act, both Saylor and MicroStrategy could be liable for treble damages if a court rules in favor of the DC AG’s Office.

ISSUES WITH DC’S “STATUTORY RESIDENCY” TEST

While determining where an individual is a resident for state and local tax purposes generally requires a fact-intensive analysis, the case against Saylor also implicates DC’s unique (and likely unconstitutional) statutory residency standard. DC’s statute is fundamentally different than statutory residency standards in other states. Most states only tax individuals having their domicile in the state as residents, while some states also have a “statutory residency” test to classify individuals as taxable residents. In most states, a person is classified as a statutory resident if they (1) maintain a permanent place of abode in the jurisdiction and (2) spend more than a specific number of days (typically 183 days) in the jurisdiction.

DC truncates this standard and classifies someone as a statutory resident if they merely maintain a personal place of abode in DC for more than 183 days. Thus, no amount of actual presence of the individual in DC is required. The problem created by this one-of-a-kind standard should be obvious: someone can (as many high-net-worth individuals often do) maintain a residence for 183 days in more than one jurisdiction. Thus, the plain language of the statute would violate the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution because it runs afoul of the internal consistency test. Under this test, a statute is unconstitutional if under a hypothetical situation in which every jurisdiction has the same law as the one being challenged, more than 100% of the tax base would be subject to tax. Here, if every state had a statutory residency test applicable to anyone who had a [...]

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DC Council Expands False Claims Act to Tax Claims

The DC Council has passed an amended bill (the False Claims Amendment Act of 2020, B23-0035) that beginning as early as January 2021 will allow tax-related false claims to be raised against large taxpayers for up to 10 years of prior tax periods! This troubling legislation creates a real and imminent possibility of prior tax periods that are closed for assessment under the DC tax law pursuant to DC Code § 47-4301 being reopened by the DC attorney general and/or a private qui tam plaintiff.

While the introduced bill passed a first reading of the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, November 17, 2020, by a vote of 8-5, the second reading (as amended) passed by a vote of 12-1 (a veto-proof supermajority) on December 1, 2020. The amended bill (as approved by the DC Council) will be sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser for consideration. If the mayor does not veto the bill or if her veto is overridden, the legislation will be assigned an Act number and sent to Congress for a 30-day review period before becoming effective as law. While extremely rare, Congress has an opportunity to reject the DC Council’s Act by passing a joint resolution, which must be signed by the president of the United States to prevent the Act from becoming law. Assuming this doesn’t happen, the Act will become law after the expiration of the 30-day Congressional review period. Assuming the Mayor quickly approves the legislation and Congress does not seek a joint resolution disapproving the Act, the legislation passed by the DC Council could take effect as early as next month!

As amended, the False Claims Amendment Act of 2020 passed by the DC Council will:

  • Remove the taxation bar that exists as part of current law (see DC Code § 2-381.02(d)) and replace it with explicit authorization allowing by the DC attorney general and private qui tam plaintiffs to pursue taxpayers for claims, records or statements made pursuant to Title 47 that refer or relate to taxation when “the District taxable income, District sales or District revenue of the person against who the action is being brought equals or exceeds $1 million for any taxable year subject to any action brought pursuant to this subsection, and the damages pleaded in the action total $350,000 or more.”
  • Require that the DC attorney general “consult with the District’s chief financial officer about the complaint” when tax-related claims are filed by a qui tam
  • Prohibits a claim by a qui tam plaintiff “based on allegations or transactions relating to taxation and that are the subject of an existing investigation, audit, examination, ruling, agreement or administrative or enforcement activity by the District’s chief financial officer.”
  • Not require the District’s chief financial officer “to produce tax information, or other information from which tax information can be inferred, if the production thereof would be a violation of federal law.”
  • Increase the maximum statutory reward for informants under the Taxation [...]

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False Claims Act Tax Expansion Bill Advanced by DC Council

The DC Council has once again advanced a bill (the False Claims Amendment Act, B23-0035) that would allow tax-related false claims against large taxpayers! The bill passed a first reading of the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, November 17, 2020, by a vote of 8-5. The bill is sponsored by Councilmember Mary Cheh, who introduced identical bills over the past few legislative sessions that ultimately were not passed. The troubling bill is now eligible for a second (and final) reading at the next legislative meeting on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.

As introduced, the bill would amend the existing false claims statute in the District of Columbia to expressly authorize tax-related false claims actions against a person that “reported net income, sales, or revenue totaling $1 million or more in the tax filing to which the claim pertained, and the damages pleaded in the action total $350,000 or more.” If enacted, it would make the District one of only a few jurisdictions that allow tax-related false claims actions across the country.

Practice Note:

The advancement of this legislation by the DC Council is a very troubling development for taxpayers doing business in the District and threatens to subject them to the same nightmares (and the cottage industry of plaintiffs’ lawyers) that states like Illinois and New York have allowed over the past decade. Because the current false claims statute includes an express tax bar, this bill would represent a major policy departure in the District. See D.C. Code § 2-381.02(d) (stating that “[t]his section shall not apply to claims, records, or statements made pursuant to those portions of Title 47 that refer or relate to taxation”). As we have seen in jurisdictions like New York and Illinois, opening the door to tax-related false claims can lead to significant headaches for taxpayers and usurp the authority of the state tax agency by involving profit-motivated private parties and the state attorney general (AG) in tax enforcement decisions.

Because the statute of limitations for false claims is 10 years after the date on which the violation occurs, the typical tax statute of limitations for audit and enforcement may not protect taxpayers from false claims actions. See D.C. Code § 2-381.05(a). Treble damages would also be permitted against taxpayers for violations, meaning District taxpayers would be liable for three times the amount of any damages sustained by the District. See D.C. Code § 2-381.02(a). A private party who files a successful claim may receive between 15–25% of any recovery to the District if the District’s AG intervenes in the matter. If the private party successfully prosecutes the case on their own, they may receive between 25–30% of the amount recovered. This financial incentive encourages profit-motivated bounty hunters to develop theories of liability not established or approved by the agency responsible for tax administration. Allowing private parties to intervene in the administration, interpretation or enforcement of the tax law commandeers the authority of the tax agency, creates [...]

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DC and New Jersey Join Mississippi in Disregarding Coronavirus-Caused Remote Work for Tax Purposes

As part of our open letter to state tax administrators urging relief of undue tax administration burdens in light of COVID-19, we urged the disregarding of remote work for tax purposes. The public health necessity for businesses to close central operations and direct employees to work from home should not be used as an “opportunity” to create nexus for affected businesses.

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QHTC You Later: DC Bids Farewell to Historic QHTC Certification Process

The District of Columbia (DC) Office of Tax & Revenue (OTR) implemented sweeping changes to the Qualified High Technology Company (QHTC) certification process this year. As you may remember, beginning last year, OTR implemented a new online QHTC self-certification process for companies to obtain exempt purchase certificates. This year, OTR is expanding the scope of this online self-certification requirement to all QHTC benefits—including exempt sales as a QHTC and other non-sales tax benefits available to a QHTC (summarized here). This change was accomplished through amendments to the QHTC certification regulation (DC Mun. Regs. tit. 9, § 1101) that were proposed by OTR in November 2018 and became final on January 4, 2019. The changes apply to all tax returns due on or after January 1, 2019.

So What Changed?

Historically, the relevant OTR regulation provided that to claim a credit or other benefit, a QHTC was required to attach a form prescribed by OTR (i.e., Form QHTC-CERT) to each applicable tax return or claim for refund. See DC Mun. Regs. tit. 9, § 1101 (prior to Jan. 4, 2019). Effective January 4, 2019 with the finalization of the amended regulation, this procedure now requires every QHTC to submit a Self-Certification request online via MyTax.DC.gov on an annual basis and obtain a “certificate of benefits” letter from OTR each year. No tax exemptions or benefits will be allowed without a valid certificate of benefits letter that is obtained prior to or concurrently with the filing of a return on which the benefits are claimed. Thus, to claim QHTC benefits on a monthly sales tax return for January 2019, the certificate of benefits will need to be requested from OTR for review/processing prior to the upcoming mid-February return deadline. Unlike the procedure in the past, the certificate of benefits letter obtained online will be deemed to attach to any tax return due and filed during the period for which the certificate is valid and unexpired. The certificate of benefits is expected to be valid for one (1) calendar year from the date it is issued/approved by OTR. Unlike prior years, the new regulation requires all benefits applications filed by a QHTC to include all of the following information:

  1. Taxpayer ID Number
  2. Name
  3. Address
  4. Sales Tax Account Number
  5. NAICS Code
  6. Information demonstrating QHTC eligibility (including attaching proof of DC office location, such as a current lease agreement)
  7. First year certified as QHTC
  8. Explanation of principal business activity
  9. Amount of QHTC Exempt Sales/Purchases from the prior year (broken down by period)
  10. Number of QHTC employees hired
  11. Number of QHTC employees hired who are District residents
  12. Schedules detailing QHTC employee credits
  13. Number of QHTC jobs created in the past year
  14. Gross revenue
  15. Gross revenue earned from QHTC activities in the District

Practice Note: Companies that have historically claimed one or more of the tax benefits available to QHTCs and wish to continue to do so in 2019 need to carefully review [...]

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Hearing Scheduled for DC False Claims Expansion – Taxpayers Beware!

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson recently announced that a public hearing will take place later this month before the Committee of the Whole to consider a bill (The False Claims Amendment Act of 2017, B22-0166) that would allow tax-related false claims against large taxpayers. The hearing will begin at 9:30 am on Thursday, December 20, 2018, in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building. More details on the hearing and opportunity to testify are available here. The bill is sponsored by Councilmember Mary Cheh, and co-sponsors of the bill include Committee on Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans and Councilmember Anita Bonds. Nearly identical bills were introduced by Councilmember Cheh in 2013 and 2016, but did not advance.

As introduced, the bill would amend the existing false claims statute in the District of Columbia to expressly authorize tax-related false claims actions against a person that “reported net income, sales, or revenue totaling $1 million or more in the tax filing to which the claim pertained, and the damages pleaded in the action total $350,000 or more.”

Practice Note:

Because the current false claims statute includes an express tax bar, this bill would represent a major policy departure in the District. See D.C. Code § 2-381.02(d) (stating that “[t]his section shall not apply to claims, records, or statements made pursuant to those portions of Title 47 that refer or relate to taxation”). As we have seen in jurisdictions like New York and Illinois, opening the door to tax-related false claims can lead to significant headaches for taxpayers and usurp the authority of the state tax agency by involving profit motivated private parties and the state Attorney General in tax enforcement decisions.

Because the statute of limitations for false claims is 10 years after the date on which the violation occurs, the typical tax statute of limitations for audit and enforcement may not protect taxpayers from false claims actions. See D.C. Code § 2-381.05(a). Treble damages would also be permitted against taxpayers for violations, meaning District taxpayers would be liable for three times the amount of any damages sustained by the District. See D.C. Code § 2-381.02(a). A private party who files a successful claim may receive between 15–25 percent of any recovery to the District if the District’s AG intervenes in the matter. If the private party successfully prosecutes the case on their own, they may receive between 25–30 percent of the amount recovered. This financial incentive encourages profit motivated bounty hunters to develop theories of liability not established or approved by the agency responsible for tax administration. Allowing private parties to intervene in the administration, interpretation or enforcement of the tax law commandeers the authority of the tax agency, creates uncertainty and can result in inequitable tax treatment. While many other problems exist with application of false claims to tax matters, those issues are beyond the scope of this blog.




District of Columbia Takes First Step to Decouple from Federal Tax Reform

On December 19, 2017, DC Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the District Tax Independence Act of 2017 (Act), which would require the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to submit a report outlining the steps and amendments necessary to decouple the District’s tax deduction laws from federal law. As introduced, the Act would require this report by no later than April 30, 2018. The Act was referred to the Committee on Finance and Revenue the same day it was introduced and has not been taken up by the committee, which has been dormant since and is not currently scheduled to meet again until the Council returns in late January. The legislation is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Allen, Evans, McDuffie, Bonds, Gray, Nadeau, R. White, Grosso, Silverman, T. White, and Chairman Mendelson. Notably, all members of the Committee on Finance and Revenue—including Chairman Evans—are co-sponsors. Practice Note The introduction of the Act signals the Council’s overwhelming disapproval of the federal tax reform enacted by Congress and signed by President Trump on December 22, 2017. This is a process that is likely to take place across the country as states begin to assess the revenue impact of the federal tax reform legislation on their state corporate income and franchise tax regime. The District currently conforms to many federal deductions on a rolling basis for purposes of the Franchise Tax, which is imposed on both corporations and unincorporated entities. See generally DC Code Ann. § 47-1803.03. As part of the decoupling process, the CFO and Council will need to determine which deductions to alter to avoid a significant revenue loss and what the DC treatment should be. Furthermore, the CFO and Council should consider which deductions are necessary to retain due to related increases to the federal tax base, which DC utilizes as the starting point for Franchise Tax purposes. The effective dates and relation to 2017 return deadlines will be critical to monitor as this process moves forward, as several portions of the federal tax reform are effective for the 2017 tax year—meaning the corresponding District changes (if any) will need to be retroactive since returns (absent extensions) are due before the CFO’s report to the Council is. DC taxpayers with specific questions on how this process may impact their Franchise Tax liability in 2017 and going forward are encouraged to contact the authors.




MTC Marketplace Seller Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Underway

Yesterday, the application period opened for the limited-time MTC Marketplace Seller Voluntary Disclosure Initiative opened and it will close October 17, 2017. Since our last blog post on the topic detailing the initiatives terms, benefits and application procedure, six additional states (listed below) have signed on to participate in varying capacities. The lookback period being offered by each of the six states that joined this week is described below.

  1. District of Columbia: will consider granting shorter or no lookback period for applications received under this initiative on a case by case basis. DC’s standard lookback period is 3 years for sales/use and income/franchise tax.
  2. Massachusetts: requires compliance with its standard 3-year lookback period. This lookback period in a particular case may be less than 3 years, depending on when vendor nexus was created.
  3. Minnesota: will abide by customary lookback periods of 3 years for sales/use tax and 4 years (3 look-back years and 1 current year) for income/franchise tax. Minnesota will grant shorter lookback periods to the time when the marketplace seller created nexus.
  4. Missouri: prospective-only for sales/use and income/franchise tax.
  5. North Carolina: prospective-only for sales/use and income/franchise tax. North Carolina will consider applications even if the entity had prior contact concerning tax liability or potential tax liability.
  6. Tennessee: prospective-only for sales/use tax, business tax and franchise and excise tax.

Practice Note

The MTC marketplace seller initiative is now up to 24 participating states. It is targeting online marketplace sellers that use a marketplace provider (such as the Amazon FBA program or similar platform or program providing fulfillment services) to facilitate retail sales into the state. In order to qualify, marketplace sellers must not have any nexus-creating contacts in the state, other than: (1) inventory stored in a third-party warehouse or fulfillment center located in the state or (2) other nexus-creating activities performed by the marketplace provider on behalf of the online marketplace seller.

While Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee have signed on to the attractive baseline terms (no lookback for sales/use and income/franchise tax), Minnesota and Massachusetts are requiring their standard lookback periods (i.e., 3+ years). Thus, these two states (similar to Wisconsin) are not likely to attract many marketplace sellers. The District of Columbia’s noncommittal case-by-case offer leaves a lot to be determined, and their ultimate offer at the end of the process could range from no lookback to the standard three years.




DC Council Introduces False Claims Expansion – Taxpayers Beware!

Last month, a bill (The False Claims Amendment Act of 2017, B22-0166) was introduced by District of Columbia Councilmember Mary Cheh that would allow tax-related false claims against large taxpayers. Co-sponsors of the bill include Chairman Jack Evans and Councilmember Anita Bonds. Specifically, the bill would amend the existing false claims statute to expressly authorize tax-related false claims actions against persons that reported net income, sales, or revenue totaling $1 million or more in the tax filing to which the claim pertained, and the damages pleaded in the action total $350,000 or more. The bill was referred to the Committee of the Whole upon introduction, but has not advanced or been taken up since then. Nearly identical bills were introduced by Councilmember Cheh in 2013 and 2016. (more…)




D.C. Council Holds Hearing on New Tax to Fund Unprecedented Family Leave Benefits

Yesterday, the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole held an advocates-only hearing on the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 (Act), which was introduced on October 6, 2015 by a majority of councilmembers. As introduced, this bill establishes a paid leave system for all District of Columbia (District) residents and all workers employed in the District. It allows for up to 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which would more than double the amount of weeks (and dollar cap) of any U.S. state-sponsored paid-leave program. While other state paid family and medical leave programs are paid by the employees themselves, the benefits for employees of a “covered employer” (i.e., private companies in the District) would be funded by a one percent payroll tax on the employer. There has been talk of setting a minimum threshold of employees (i.e., 15-20 employee minimum) for an employer to be covered by the Act, although such a requirement does not exist in the current draft. Because the District cannot tax the federal government or employers outside its borders, District residents working for one of these entities are required to contribute to the fund individually. This would result in a strange dynamic that taxes District residents differently based on whether they work for a covered employer or not. Self-employed District residents have the ability to opt-out altogether (and not contribute to the fund or receive benefits) under the Act.

The definition of “covered employee” is drafted in such a way that temporary and transitory employees (i.e., “employed during some or all the 52 calendar weeks immediately preceding the qualifying event”) could claim the full 16 weeks of benefits and have no obligation to return to the job. The Act does exclude employees that spend more than 50 percent of their time working in a state other than District; however, this exclusion would not apply to employees that do not spend a majority of their time in any one state.

A qualifying individual is one who becomes unable to perform their job functions because of a serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition or a new child. Claims are filed with the District Government and the District must notify the employer within five business days of a claim being filed. Beneficiaries will receive 100 percent of their average weekly wages (up to $1,000 per week) plus 50 percent of their average weekly wages in excess, with a weekly cap of $3,000.

Practice Note:

Advocates testifying yesterday expressed concerns that the proposed one percent rate (considered high by many) is unrealistic and would fall significantly short of funding the generous benefits—although no definitive data is available at this time. Aside from highlighting the unprecedented breadth of the benefits, many advocates also noted the significant loopholes in the current draft that could lead to unintended—and potentially unconstitutional—consequences, if passed. At this point, it appears that the Council has [...]

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