The first New York meeting of McDermott’s Tax in the City® initiative in 2018 coincided with the June 21 issuance of the US Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) highly anticipated Wayfair decision. Just before our meeting, SCOTUS issued its opinion determining that remote sellers that do not have a physical presence in a state can be required to collect sales tax on sales to customers in that state. McDermott SALT partner Diann Smith relayed the decision and its impact on online retailers to a captivated audience. Click here to read McDermott’s insight about the decision.
Moments ago, the US Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., et al., No. 17-494. The 5-4 opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and concluded that the physical presence requirement established by the Court in its 1967 National Bellas Hess decision and reaffirmed in 1992 in Quill is “unsound and incorrect” and that “stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power.” This opinion will have an immediate and significant impact on sales and use tax collection obligations across the country and is something every company and state must immediately and carefully evaluate within the context of existing state and local collection authority.
Summary of Opinions
The majority opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and was joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito and Gorsuch. In reaching the conclusion that the physical presence rule is an incorrect interpretation of the dormant Commerce Clause, the opinion states that the Quill physical presence rule: (1) is flawed on its own terms because it is not a necessary interpretation of the Complete Auto nexus requirement, creates market distortions and imposes an arbitrary and formalistic standard as opposed to the case-by-case analysis favored by Commerce Clause precedents; (2) is artificial in its entirety and not just at its edges; and (3) is an extraordinary imposition by the Judiciary. The majority went on to conclude that stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power, noting that “[i]t is inconsistent with this Court’s proper role to ask Congress to address a false constitutional premise of this Court’s own creation.” The majority noted that the South Dakota law “affords small merchants a reasonable degree of protection” and “other aspects of the Court’s [dormant] Commerce Clause doctrine can protect against any undue burden on interstate commerce.” The majority opinion specifically notes that “the potential for such issues to arise in some later case cannot justify an artificial, anachronistic rule that deprives States of vast revenues from major businesses.” Finally, the majority decision provides that in the absence of Quill and Bellas Hess, the first prong of Complete Auto simply asks whether the tax applies to an activity with substantial nexus with the taxing State and that here, “the nexus is clearly sufficient.” Specifically, the South Dakota law only applies to sellers that deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the State or engage in 200 or more separate transactions, which “could not have occurred unless the seller availed itself of the substantial privilege of carrying on business in South Dakota.” With respect to other principles in the Court’s dormant Commerce Clause doctrine that may invalid the South Dakota law, the majority held that “the Court need not resolve them here.” However, the majority opinion does note that South Dakota appears to have features built into its law that are “designed to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens upon interstate commerce” including: (1) a safe harbor for small sellers; (2) provisions that prevent a retroactive collection obligation; and (3) the fact that South Dakota is a member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.
Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch both wrote a standalone concurring opinions. Justice Thomas acknowledged that he should have voted with Justice White in Quill to overturn Bellas Hess and Justice Gorsuch seemed to caution his concurrence should not be read as an agreement with all aspects of the dormant Commerce Clause (perhaps looking forward to future issues that may be before the Court).
Chief Justice Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. The dissent argues that any alteration to the physical presence rule should be undertaken by Congress and that departing from the doctrine of stare decisis is an exceptional action demanding special justification, which is even further heightened in the dormant Commerce Clause context. The dissenting opinion went on to note that the majority “breezily disregards the costs that its decision will impose on retailers” and that the “burden will fall disproportionately on small businesses” which they note is something Congress could fix as part of a legislative solution. The Chief Justice Robert’s dissent concludes that “I fear the Court today is compounding its past error by trying to fix it in a totally different era.”
Practice Note and Next Steps
Today’s opinion raises no shortage of questions that will be discussed and further evaluated over the coming weeks and months. One thing that is clear from the decision is that the Court is still concerned about potential undue burdens that state tax systems may impose on businesses, particularly small businesses. The Court appears to have concluded that South Dakota’s imposition does not run afoul of those concerns, however, the door is open as to whether other states’ tax systems would satisfy the new requirements. The Court repeatedly emphasized that South Dakota’s participation in the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement was an important factor in upholding the imposition of tax. The Court also cited South Dakota’s lack of retroactivity and a threshold as important factors as well.
States will obviously rejoice at the decision. Expect states to seek legislative and regulatory expansion of their “doing business” laws to align with the South Dakota v. Wayfair opinion, with significant activity in the next round of state legislative sessions.
The Court reiterated that Congress may act to address any of the concerns with the new standard. In fact, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion acknowledges that “Congress may legislate to address these problems if it deems it necessary and fit to do so.” Although little progress has been made in Congress on this issue for some time, the landscape is now changed and that may result in pushing Congress to act.
On June 4, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law the state’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget implementation bill, Public Act 100-0587 (the Act). The Act makes a significant change to the Illinois sales/use tax nexus standard by adopting an “economic nexus” standard for a sales/use tax collection obligation. The economic nexus language was added to the budget bill one day before it was passed by the General Assembly. The standard is contrary to the physical presence nexus standard established by the United States Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 US 298 (1992), the validity of which is currently pending before the Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Docket 17-494. The Court is expected to rule on Wayfair by the end of this month (see here for our prior coverage of the Wayfair case).
The Act amends Section 2 of the Use Tax Act to impose a tax collection and remission obligation on an out-of-state retailer making sales of tangible personal property to Illinois customers if the retailer’s gross receipts from sales to Illinois customers are at least $100,000 or the retailer has at least 200 separate sales transactions with Illinois customers. Similarly, it would amend Section 2 of the Service Use Tax Act with respect to out-of-state sellers making sales of services to Illinois customers. These changes mirror the economic nexus standard adopted by South Dakota. See SD Codified Laws § 10-64-2.
In the wake of Wayfair, other states have adopted similar nexus provisions. See, e.g., Conn. SB 417, Ga. HB 61, Haw. HB 2514, Iowa SF 2417, provisions enacted in 2018. By enacting the statute without an escape clause, Illinois, like other states, has put a law on the books that directly conflicts with Quill, and which will be ripe for constitutional challenge if the US Supreme Court affirms the South Dakota Supreme Court’s ruling that the South Dakota statute is unconstitutional.
The Act also amended Section 223 of the Illinois Income Tax Act to extend the tax credit for for-profit hospitals (equal to the lesser of property taxes paid or the cost of charity care provided) to tax years ending on or before December 31, 2022.
The Act made no changes in response to the federal tax reform bill. In particular the General Assembly did not enact Senate Bill 3152 (proposing to add-back the new federal deduction for foreign-derived intangible income (FDII); see here for our prior coverage). The General Assembly also did not enact either of the pending bills (HB 4237 and 4563) proposing to work around the federal $10,000 limitation on the deductibility of state and local taxes by establishing funds/foundations to which taxpayers could make contributions in exchange for tax credits.
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
A Grain of SALT: May State Focus – Georgia
Georgia was one of the first states to enact comprehensive legislation in response to the federal tax reform bill, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). As a preliminary matter, the Georgia bill provides conformity to the IRC as of February 9, 2018, with certain exceptions. Before the bill’s enactment, the Georgia Code had conformed to the IRC as of January 1, 2017, and, in turn, did not conform to the TCJA.
The new legislation contains numerous exceptions to Georgia’s conformity with the current IRC. For example, the tax bill explicitly provides that Georgia will decouple from the new interest expense limitations in IRC § 163(j) and also from the new provisions in IRC § 118 that provide inclusion in gross income of certain capital contributions.
With respect to the international provisions of the TCJA, Georgia’s dividend-received deduction for dividends received from foreign corporations seems to apply to the global intangible low taxed income (GILTI), included in the federal tax base under IRC § 951A, and to the deemed repatriated foreign earnings, included in the federal tax base under IRC § 965(a). The legislation provides that the deductions in IRC § 250 for a portion of the GILTI and in IRC § 965(c) for a portion of the deemed repatriated foreign earnings will be disallowed to the extent such income is excluded from the Georgia tax base pursuant to the dividend received deduction.
Finally, the Georgia bill provides that the new federal net operating loss (NOL) provisions (including the restriction that the NOL cannot exceed 80 percent of taxable income and the new federal carryback and carryforward provisions) apply for purposes of computing the Georgia net operating loss deduction with the specification that the 80 percent limitation is computed based on Georgia taxable net income (not federal taxable income).
Top Hits You May Have Missed
Looking Forward to May
May 2, 2018: Stephen Kranz is presenting “Wayfair Oral Argument Summary and Status Update” at the Streamlines Sales Tax Governing Board (SSTGB) Spring 2018 Meeting in Jackson Hole WY. On April 17, 2018, Supreme Court justices listened to both sides of the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. as South Dakota argued to repeal a 1992 decision from the case Quill v. North Dakota which ruled that companies only had to collect sales tax in states where they are physically located. South Dakota argued that the state, along with many other states, had been robbed of billions of dollars as a result of the decision. He will discuss how this case, which the Supreme Court is expected to decide in June, is very important.
May 3, 2018: Peter Faber and Alysse McLoughlin will be speaking at The Business Council’s 2018 Annual Conference on State Taxation on the topic “New York State Budget / Legislative Review and Comment / Federal “Conformity” & Mitigation” in New York, NY.
May 3, 2018: Scott Susko is presenting “Ethics for Tax Professionals” at The Business Council’s 2018 Annual Conference on State Taxation in New York, NY.
May 11, 2018: Stephen Kranz is presenting “Handling Tax Controversy to Win” and “The Digital Tax Tsunami: What You Need to Know to Help Your Clients” at Avalara’s CRUSH DC 2018 in Washington DC. Mr. Kranz will discuss an approach to solving tax problems holistically, understanding the offensive and defensive tools available and the avenues for relief when interacting with the government, planning and building the team to effectively work all avenues the government offers, tools available including FOIA, policy solutions, and litigation. He will overview new technology models and the evolution to cloud-based products, demystify the division of ownership of cloud service, as well as characterize digital goods products, delivery, and the contractual language of a purchase.
May 15, 2018: Madeline Chiampou, Peter Faber, Britt Haxton, Steve Kranz, John Lutz, Alysse McLoughlin, Alan Schwartz, Diann Smith, and Mark Yopp are presenting at TEI’s Tax Reform Seminar titled “The State of Federal Tax Reform: A Federal and State Corporate Tax Perspective” in the McDermott New York office. Click here to register.
May 15, 2018: Mary Kay Martire is presenting about Illinois residency issues (“Fleeing Illinois: State Income and Estate Tax Overview for Individuals and Fiduciaries”) at the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education’s 61st Annual Estate Planning Seminar in Champaign, IL.
May 15, 2018: Lauren Ferrante is moderating the Chicago Bar Association State and Local Tax Committee’s Spring Seminar, scheduled for May 15 from 12:00 p.m. – 2:10 p.m. CST and held at the CBA’s headquarters in downtown Chicago. The seminar consists of two panels: (1) “U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the Wayfair case and its impact on the SALT world”; and (2) “Recent Changes in Illinois Tax Law.”
May 24, 2018: Mary Kay Martire and Tim Halleron are presenting about Illinois residency issues (“Fleeing Illinois: State Income and Estate Tax Overview for Individuals and Fiduciaries”) at the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education’s 61st Annual Estate Planning Seminar in Chicago, IL.
May 30, 2018: Alysse McLoughlin is presenting “The Amazon Effect on Public Finance – What is the Optimal Tax Structure in the Internet Age?” at the National Federation of Municipal Analysts 35th Annual Conference in Coronado, CA.
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
A Grain of SALT: April State Focus – South Dakota
On April 17, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in South Dakota’s case challenging the Court’s physical presence requirement for sales tax nexus. South Dakota v. Wayfair, Docket 17-494.
50 years ago, in National Bellas Hess v. Department of Revenue, 386 U.S. 753 (1967), the Supreme Court held that the Due Process and Commerce Clauses of the United States Constitution barred states from requiring remote retailers with no physical presence in a State to collect and remit sales tax. In 1992, the Court affirmed its prior ruling under the Commerce Clause. Quill v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992).
Quill has been at the center of state tax nexus controversy since the time of its issuance, as states have worked to restrict, and taxpayers have worked to expand the scope of the ruling. States and taxpayers have been continually tied up in disputes regarding the meaning of “physical presence” sufficient to trigger nexus. Concerned about the rapid growth of digital commerce, states have advanced increasingly aggressive theories of “physical presence” in an attempt to stem the loss of sales tax revenues from internet sales. Taxpayers, on the other hand, repeatedly have sought to apply the physical presence nexus standard to other types of taxes, principally income tax. Until South Dakota v. Wayfair, the Supreme Court declined to accept review of any case seeking further guidance with respect to the physical presence nexus standard. Continue Reading Finishing SALT: April State Focus & March Wrap-Up
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 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
On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) issued additional guidance concerning its treatment of the new deemed repatriated foreign earnings provisions found in Internal Revenue Code Section 965, enacted in the federal tax reform bill (known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or “TCJA”). The Department confirmed key aspects of Illinois’ treatment of the repatriation provisions, including:
- Both the income inclusion and deduction provided for in the deemed repatriated foreign earnings provisions will be taken into account in determining a taxpayer’s tax base, so that the inclusion in Illinois will be net. The Department’s guidance references the new federal IRC 965 Transition Tax Statement, which a taxpayer must file with its 2017 federal return when reporting deemed repatriated foreign earnings; that statement includes both income under IRC 965(a) and the corresponding participation deduction under IRC 965(c).
- Additionally, the Department’s guidance also confirms that the net amount included as deemed repatriated foreign earnings will be treated as a foreign dividend eligible for Illinois’ dividend-received deduction, which can be a 70 percent, 80 percent or 100 percent deduction depending on a taxpayer’s percentage share of ownership of the foreign subsidiary subject to the repatriation provisions. See 35 ILCS 5/203(b)(2)(O). (For tax periods beginning on or after January 1, 2018, 80 percent is reduced to 65 percent and 70 percent is reduced to 50 percent because this provision incorporates the federal dividend-received deduction rates found in IRC 243, which was amended as such by the TCJA.)
This morning, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill into law that will exempt cloud-based software transactions from State Gross Retail and Use Taxes, effective July 1, 2018. The signing took place at the headquarters of Indiana-based cloud service provider DemandJump, Inc.
Specifically, Senate Enrolled Act No. 257 (which was unanimously passed by both chambers of the General Assembly) will add a new section to the Indiana Code chapter on retail transactions that specifically provides that “[a] transaction in which an end user purchases, rents, leases, or licenses the right to remotely access prewritten computer software over the Internet, over private or public networks, or through wireless media: (1) is not considered to be a transaction in which prewritten computer software is delivered electronically; and (2) does not constitute a retail transaction.” The new law will also clarify that the sale, rental, lease or license of prewritten computer software “delivered electronically” (i.e., downloaded software) is subject to the Gross Retail and Use Taxes. Continue Reading BREAKING: Indiana Enacts Cloud Software Tax Exemption