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

On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, at 10:00 am (EST) the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., a state tax case poised to reconsider the dormant Commerce Clause physical presence standard upheld by the Court on stare decisis grounds in the historic mail-order case Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (U.S. 1992), which was litigated by McDermott Will & Emery. The Court is expected to consider whether a 2016 South Dakota law imposing sales and use tax collection obligations on online retailers–and other sellers–with no physical presence in the state is permissible given, among other things, the advances in technology and e-commerce since Quill was decided.

For those that would like to attend the South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. oral argument as a member of the public (as opposed to as a member of the US Supreme Court Bar), the Supreme Court Police give out 100–150 numbered tickets between 7:00 am–7:30 am. The doors to the building open at 8:00 am.  Once inside, the line re-forms in the hallway by the Gallery steps and at 9:00 am, the public is allowed upstairs to the Gallery.  The argument will begin at 10:00 am.  Given the popularity of this case, it is anticipated that only around 50 seats will be available to the general public for this argument—so plan to arrive early to ensure you have the best chance to make it in!

After the oral argument concludes, we invite you to join COST, Bloomberg Tax, McDermott Will & Emery, and lawyers involved in many respects of the litigation for a moderated roundtable discussion at the DC office of McDermott Will & Emery, which is just minutes away from the Supreme Court. The roundtable discussion will begin at 12:00 pm (EST) and explore the issues before the Court and opinions regarding the many possible outcomes from the case.

We expect a full house and space will be limited, so please register your interest now so that we can plan to accommodate as many as possible. This case promises to revolutionize the world of SALT, no matter the outcome.

On October 2, 2017, the State of South Dakota (State) filed its petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court (Court). A copy of the cert petition is available here and the case, South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. et al., is expected to be docketed on October 3, 2017. The State is asking the Court to overturn its physical presence standard used to determine whether an entity has substantial nexus under the dormant Commerce Clause. This comes only a few weeks after the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled against the State in favor of the online retailer defendants, citing the Court’s physical presence standard upheld in Quill on stare decisis grounds.

Practice Note

This development comes as no surprise to the state and local tax community, and begins what is likely to be one of the most closely watched cert petitions in years. Going forward, the online retailers have three options: (1) acquiesce that the Court should grant cert; (2) waive their right to file a response to the cert petition; or (3) file a brief in opposition. If the online retailers choose the third option, they will have 30 days from today (if the case is in fact docketed today) to file their brief in opposition. This deadline is subject to extensions, upon request (the first of which is always granted as a matter of right). We expect a number of groups to file amicus curiae briefs regarding this cert petition given the significance of the issue raised. If the online retailers do file a brief in opposition, the State will be given an opportunity to file a reply brief, rebutting the points made by the online retailers and reiterating the arguments made in the State’s cert petition. Unlike the cert petition and the brief in opposition, which must be filed with the Court under strict deadlines, the exact timing of the reply brief varies. As a general rule of thumb, a reply brief is usually filed approximately 10 days after filing of the brief in opposition.

While this dispute is a long way from being heard by the Court on the merits (if at all), the cert petition is a critical first step that will have implications to Congress, the courts, state legislatures, taxpayers, and revenue departments across the country. Stay tuned for more coverage of this cert petition and the developments that follow.

Yesterday, the South Dakota Supreme Court released its much-anticipated opinion in the Wayfair litigation, affirming a March 2017 trial court decision granting the remote retailer’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that the economic nexus law enacted in 2016 (SB 106) is unconstitutional and directly violates the US Supreme Court’s dormant Commerce Clause precedent in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota.

The South Dakota litigation remains at the front of the pack of a host of state court cases challenging similar state economic nexus laws across the United States. The expedited review (and decision) by the South Dakota Supreme Court here is significant, and puts the litigation well within the range of cases that would be decided by the end of the October 2017 Term (i.e., by July 2018), assuming cert is granted—which is by no means a guarantee. The state has 90 days to file a cert petition with the US Supreme Court, which can be extended upon request. Stay tuned, as this litigation is far from over and the sitting US Supreme Court will be tasked with deciding whether they will honor Justice Kennedy’s request to bring a case before the Court in DMA v. Brohl.

The full South Dakota Supreme Court opinion is available here.

The Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) has issued a proposed new administrative rule addressing the nexus implications for out-of-state retailers attending trade shows in Illinois. The proposed rule, linked here, reaffirms the Department’s long-standing position that all sales made at an Illinois trade show are subject to Illinois Retailers Occupation Tax and any applicable local taxes. In a move welcomed by taxpayers, the proposed rule goes on to delineate a “safe harbor” of activities that will not create nexus for out-of-state retailers with respect to their other Illinois sales.

Under the safe harbor provision, an out-of-state retailer’s presence at an Illinois trade show will not create nexus for its other Illinois sales if each of the following conditions is met:

  1. The retailer attends no more than two trade shows per calendar year;
  2. The retailer is physically present at the two trade shows for an aggregate total of no more than eight days during any calendar year; and
  3. Combined gross receipts from sales made at the two trade shows during any single calendar year do not exceed $10,000.

Continue Reading Illinois DOR Proposes Use Tax Nexus Standards for Trade Show Retailers

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.

The Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) is moving quickly to implement a multistate amnesty program through its current National Nexus Program (NNP) for sellers making sales through marketplaces. The new MTC marketplace seller amnesty program is limited to remote sellers (3P sellers) that have nexus with a state solely as the result of: (1) having inventory located in a fulfillment center or warehouse in that state operated by a marketplace provider; or (2) other nexus-creating activities of a marketplace provider in the state. Other qualifications include: (1) no prior contact/registration with the state; (2) timely application during the period of August 17, 2017 through October 17, 2017; and (3) registration with the state to begin collecting sales and use tax by no later than December 1, 2017, and income/franchise tax (to the extent applicable) starting with the 2017 tax year.

The baseline guarantee is prospective-only (beginning no later than Dec. 1, 2017) tax liability for sales and use and income/franchise tax, including waiver of penalties and interest. The program also attempts to ensure confidentiality of the 3P seller’s participation by prohibiting the states and MTC from honoring blanket requests from other jurisdictions for the identity of taxpayers filing returns. Note, however, that the confidentiality provision would still allow for disclosure of the content of the agreement in response to: (1) an inter-government exchange of information agreement in which the entity provides the taxpayer’s name and taxpayer identification number; (2) a statutory requirement; or (3) a lawful order.

Continue Reading MTC Offers 18 State Marketplace Seller Amnesty Initiative

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

Can a seller have nexus with a state – so as to be obligated to collect and remit that state’s sales and use taxes – only in connection with certain sales that seller makes into that state?  In this article, the authors explore the concept that only certain transactions may be subject to that obligation, depending on the extent of the seller’s connection with that state.

Read the full article.

Originally published in State Tax Notes, July 3, 2017.

The Connecticut Department of Revenue Services (DRS) recently issued demand letters to many remote sellers requiring that they either: (a) provide electronic sales records for all individual sales shipped to a Connecticut address over the past three calendar years; or (b) register to collect and remit Connecticut sales and use tax. This action is consistent with statements made by DRS Commissioner, Kevin Sullivan, via a press release in March and more recently at a Federation of Tax Administrator’s (FTA) presentation on the topic two weeks ago. Sullivan’s comments at the FTA meeting indicated that state tax administrators “will move from hoping Congress will help” to taking action into their own hands.

For remote sellers with no physical presence in Connecticut that don’t wish to voluntarily collect and remit sales and use tax (consistent with the US Supreme Court’s precedent in Quill and Bellas Hess), they are given only one option–provide DRS with a semi-colon delimited text file containing 16 fields of data–including customer names, customer addresses, ship to addresses, item descriptions and quantities sold. But supplying such personal data about customers intrudes upon the privacy and First Amendment rights of the customer, and unconstitutionally deprives remote sellers of their property right in the data set without due process of law. Of equal concern, some sellers question whether DRS is appropriately limited in its ability to disclose or share the customer data it seeks.

First, disclosure of the records DRS is requesting from remote sellers would be a significant intrusion on their customers’ privacy. The records requested include disclosure of customer names, addresses, shipping state, sales price and specific product(s) purchased. This can be highly sensitive information. Merely linking a particular online retailer to a specific customer may reveal information about the customer’s health issues, political leanings, sexual orientation, personal tastes and financial circumstances. By collecting shipping addresses, DRS will learn when an individual has a gift purchase delivered to a different address, revealing what could be a personal (and highly private) relationship. Moreover, some sellers question whether Connecticut law adequately protects the confidentiality of the information DRS is attempting to collect, leaving the possibility that the information could be shared with other government agencies and potentially used for purposes other than collection of sales and use tax.

Second, for remote sellers that offer books, music, videos and other forms of expressive content, the DRS request violates the customers’ First Amendment protections. In 2010, a US District Court held that an online retailer’s North Carolina customers’ First Amendment rights were implicated by a similar content disclosure requirement on audit. See Amazon.com LLC v. Lay, 758 F. Supp. 2d 1154, 1169 (W.D. Wash. 2010). The First Amendment protects a buyer from having the expressive content of that buyer’s purchase of books, music and audiovisual material disclosed to the government. Thus, First Amendment rights are implicated when the government seeks disclosure of reading, listening and viewing habits. As a result, the North Carolina Department of Revenue was enjoined from requesting customer identifying information from the online retailer. The same prohibition upheld by the federal district court should apply to DRS here. Beyond the First Amendment, the Connecticut Constitution itself offers similar protections that speak against the state’s ability to obtain such information. See Conn. Const. art. I, §§ 4-5.

Third, Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Connecticut Constitution prohibit DRS from depriving any person of property without due process of law. The required disclosure by remote sellers of their proprietary list of Connecticut purchasers compromises the value of the customer list and deprives the disclosing retailer of its protected property right in the list without due process of law. For remote sellers, these lists are valuable, highly exclusive trade secrets, in which such retailers make a substantial investment and in which they have a protected property right. By forcing remote sellers to turn over their confidential customer lists and subsequently not having an obligation to protect the list from the public realm, DRS is depriving the remote sellers of valuable property without due process of law. Would the state be able to protect a customer list from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by a remote seller’s competitor?

Last, but certainly not least, Connecticut law requires that each state agency “[m]aintain only that information about a person which is relevant and necessary to accomplish the lawful purposes of the agency.” Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 4-193(e). The amount of information being required by DRS goes well beyond what is required to enforce Connecticut tax law. Some number of a remote seller’s customers undoubtedly paid use tax on their purchases. Ignoring that reality the DRS targets all sales to Connecticut consumers when they should instead be looking for information only on consumers who have not already paid the appropriate use tax. This broad fishing expedition is therefore not targeted to the agency’s necessary and appropriate role but is instead designed to burden the seller and cause remote sellers to register to collect and remit sales and use tax.

Practice Note: Remote sellers who receive communication from the DRS should evaluate their legal rights and obligations and take appropriate steps to protect their customers’ data. We encourage remote sellers to contact the authors should they be concerned about the course of action taken by the Connecticut DRS.