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

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...

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Illinois Appellate Court Blows the Whistle on Serial Relator

In a bombshell opinion, the Illinois Appellate Court held that a law firm serving both as client and attorney may not recover statutory attorneys’ fees under the Illinois False Claims Act (the Act). In People ex rel. Schad, Diamond & Shedden, P.C. v. My Pillow, Inc., 2017 IL App (1st) 152668 (June 15, 2017), the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, reversed the trial court’s award of attorney fees in excess of $600,000 for work performed by Diamond’s law firm on behalf of itself as the relator. McDermott represents My Pillow in this matter. Much like its federal counterpart, the Act allows private citizens (referred to as relators) to file fraud claims on behalf of the state of Illinois. If successful, relators can collect up to 30 percent of the damages award plus attorneys’ fees. The Diamond firm is hardly a traditional “whistleblower” with “inside knowledge,” as it has filed approximately 1,000 different qui tam actions as the relator over the...

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Update on Illinois Legislative Session

On May 31, the Illinois General Assembly closed its regular legislative session, without a budget agreement. Senate Bill 9 As we previously reported, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill 9 (Bill), a tax proposal that is part of the Illinois “Grand Bargain” that we described in a previous post. The version of Senate Bill 9 that passed out of the Senate passed the House Revenue Committee on May 29 on a partisan vote. The House has extended the Bill’s final action deadline to June 30. The current version of the Bill is similar but not identical to the version that we have previously described. Some of the more significant amendments include the following: Two New Taxes. The Bill now proposes to create two new taxes. The “Video Service Tax Modernization Act” purports to impose a tax on satellite television and streaming television services at a rate of 5 percent of the gross revenues that a provider earns from its Illinois customers. The Bill also...

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Illinois Bills to Watch

Just days away from the May 31 close of its regular legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly has yet to enact the comprehensive series of tax and budget reforms that were first proposed by the Illinois Senate leadership late last year. Yesterday, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill (SB) 9, the tax proposal we described in a previous post, without any Republican support. SB 9 now moves to the Democratically-controlled House for consideration. Even if approved by the House, it seems likely that Illinois’ Republican Governor will veto the legislation. Other bills to watch over the next week include the following: False Claims Act Penalty Increase Proposal Senate Bill 1577 proposes to change the penalty amounts imposed for violation of the Illinois False Claims Act (740 ILCS 175/1 et. seq.). Currently, a penalty of between $5,500 and $11,000 is imposed for each violation of the Illinois False Claims Act (740 ILCS 175/3(a)(1)). The...

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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. 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...

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Tax Highlights of Proposed Illinois “Grand Bargain”

In an effort to resolve Illinois’ 20-month budget impasse, the Illinois Senate leadership (Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Rodogno) have jointly proposed a series of bills to increase revenue, reduce spending, and respond to the Illinois Governor’s concerns regarding pension reforms, workers compensation reform and property tax relief.  A series of twelve bills have been introduced, all of which are interlinked for passage.  The bills are termed the Illinois “Grand Bargain.”  Most of the tax-related changes are found in Senate Bill 9.  The current version of the Senate Bill 9 (Amendment 3) (“Bill”) was submitted on March 3 and includes the following proposed changes:  Income Tax.  The Bill proposes to increase income tax rates, effective January 1, 2017 to 4.99% for individuals, trusts and estates, and 7% for corporations.  Other income tax-related features of the Bill include the elimination of the non-combination...

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Another Effort at False Claims Act Reform: Bills Introduced to Amend Illinois Act to Restrict Tax-Related Claims

Illinois Legislators have recently introduced three bills that would amend the Illinois False Claims Act (“Act”) to restrict the ability to bring tax-related claims. Senate Bill 9, the proposed “grand bargain” to resolve Illinois’ budget stalemate, includes language that would eliminate the ability to use the Act to bring tax claims.  In addition, Representative Frank Wheeler and Senator Pam Althoff have introduced House Bill 1814 and Senate Bill 1250, respectively, which are identical pieces of legislation that would significantly restrict a private citizen’s right to bring tax-related claims. Senate Bill 9, if adopted in its current form, would eliminate the ability to bring a tax-related claim under the Act.  Currently, the Act only excludes the right to bring income tax-related claims. 740 ILCS 175/3(c).  This would effectively conform the Act to the federal False Claims Act, which does not extend to tax claims.  Rather, tax-related claims are brought...

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Illinois Appellate Court Delivers Another Blow to Relator in False Claims Act Litigation

On Monday, October 17, the Illinois Appellate Court issued another taxpayer-friendly opinion in an Illinois False Claims Act case alleging a failure to collect and remit sales tax on internet and catalog sales to customers in Illinois (People ex. rel. Beeler, Schad & Diamond, P.C. v. Relax the Back Corp., 2016 IL App. (1st) 151580)). The opinion, partially overturned a Circuit Court trial verdict in favor of the Relator, Beeler, Schad & Diamond, PC (currently named Stephen B. Diamond, PC). Consistent with its opinion in State of Illinois ex rel. Schad, Diamond & Shedden, P.C. v. National Business Furniture, LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 150526 (Aug. 1, 2016)), the Appellate Court emphasized the high standard of proof imposed on a whistleblower seeking to prove a reckless disregard of the tax laws. The opinion is noteworthy because the court repeatedly acknowledged that “what constitutes sufficient physical presence to justify collection of the use tax is...

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Cook County Circuit Court Dismisses 201 False Claims Act Lawsuits

At a hearing yesterday, Cook County Circuit Judge James Snyder granted the State of Illinois’ (State) Motion to Dismiss 201 Illinois False Claims Act (FCA) cases filed by the law firm of Stephen B. Diamond, PC (Relator) against out-of-state liquor retailers.  The lawsuits alleged that the defendants were obligated to collect and remit sales tax on their internet sales of alcohol shipped to Illinois customers.  The complaints admitted that the defendants lacked any physical presence in the state, and would not qualify for any Illinois liquor retail license, but nevertheless asserted a tax collection obligation for sales and a tax remission obligation for gallonage tax arising under the 21st Amendment of the US Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decision in Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005). In its motion to dismiss and at oral argument, the State relied upon the favorable standard for consideration of motions to dismiss False Claims Act cases filed by...

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Illinois Department of Revenue Further Revises its Proposed Amendments to Shipping and Handling Regulations

The Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) has further revised its recently proposed amendments to the regulations governing the taxability of shipping and handling charges. See our prior coverage here. The revisions to the Proposed Amendments to 86 Ill. Admin. Code §§ 130.415 and 130.410 (Revised Proposed Amendments) were made in response to particular comments and concerns raised by industry groups, as explained by the Department in its Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The Revised Proposed Amendments address the following topics: Retroactivity of the Revised Proposed Amendments to November 19, 2009, the date of the Kean decision: The Department added a “safe harbor provision” for taxpayers that have complied with the existing regulation for time periods prior to the effective date of the Revised Proposed Amendments. Prop. 86 Ill. Admin. Code § 130.415(b)(1)(A)(i).  Taxpayers fitting within the safe harbor will be considered to be in compliance...

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