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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.




BREAKING NEWS: No Physical Presence Required for Ohio CAT Imposition

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated slip opinions in the three companion cases challenging Ohio’s Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) economic nexus standard. See Crutchfield Corp. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7760; Newegg, Inc. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7762; and Mason Cos., Inc. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7768.

In ruling 5-2 in favor of the state, the Ohio Supreme Court first held that physical presence is not a necessary condition for imposing the CAT because the CAT’s $500,000 sales-receipts threshold is adequate quantitative standard that ensures that taxpayer’s nexus with Ohio is substantial under the dormant Commerce Clause. In reaching this conclusion, the court specifically stated that “[o]ur reading of the case law indicates that the physical-presence requirement recognized and preserved by the United States Supreme Court for purposes of use-tax collection does not extend to business-privilege taxes such as the CAT.” (emphasis in original) Note that the court held this was the case regardless of whether the business-privilege tax is measured by income or receipts. In rebuking the taxpayer’s argument that Tyler Pipe affirmatively required some physical presence in the taxing state, the court held that physical presence is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for imposing a business-privilege tax. See our prior blog on the oral argument for a more detailed description of the Tyler Pipe argument.

Second, the Ohio high court viewed the burdens imposed by the CAT on interstate commerce as not clearly excessive in relation to Ohio’s legitimate interest in imposing the CAT evenhandedly on sales receipts of in-state and out-of-state sellers. Citing these two bases, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Board of Tax Appeals’ (BTA) decisions affirming the CAT assessments against the three appellants. The dissenting opinion viewed Quill as the proper standard for the Ohio CAT, and would have remanded the cases to the BTA for a determination of whether the taxpayer had physical presence.

Practice Note:

These companion cases were viewed by many as a potential vehicle to seek review of the continued viability of the Quill physical presence requirement (as Justice Kennedy called for in his widely-cited DMA concurrence last year). However, the narrow scope of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision makes it difficult for this case to become the vehicle for the US Supreme Court to review Quill’s continuing viability for sales and use tax nexus.




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…)




No Surprises in Ohio CAT Nexus Oral Argument

Oral argument before the Ohio Supreme Court took place on May 3 in the three cases challenging Ohio’s Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) nexus standard.  Crutchfield, Inc. v. Testa, Case No. 2015-0386; Mason Cos. Inc. v. Testa, Case No. 2015-0794; Newegg, Inc. v. Testa, Case No. 2015-0483.  Ohio imposes its CAT on a business that has more than $500,000 in annual gross receipts in the state, even if the business has no physical presence in the state.  These three taxpayers have challenged this standard as violating the Commerce Clause substantial nexus test.

The oral argument in the cases proceeded as expected.  The majority of the time for both parties was taken up by questions from the bench.  Several judges quizzed the taxpayers’ counsel about the assertion that no business was conducted in Ohio.  The judges focused on activities such as products being received by customers in Ohio and software being placed on customers’ computers in Ohio to facilitate ordering or to track customer activity in Ohio.  The taxpayers’ counsel vigorously disagreed with this construction of the facts – noting that whatever happened in Ohio, all of the taxpayers’ actions occurred elsewhere.  He stated that the activities called out by the judges were no different than receiving and reviewing a catalog in the state.

The taxpayers’ counsel repeatedly cited to Tyler Pipe as the controlling law in this case – noting that before a state could impose a tax on a business, that business had to do something in the taxing state (or have something done on its behalf) that helped it establish and maintain a market in the state.  According to the taxpayers’ counsel, it was not enough that a market exists in the taxing state; the taxpayer had to be doing something in the taxing state.  He asserted that the taxpayer conducted no business activities in the state and thus Tyler Pipe prevented the state from imposing the CAT on them.  This became the taxpayers’ mantra throughout the argument. (more…)




Ohio Supreme Court Rules City of Cleveland’s Taxation of Nonresident NFL Players’ Compensation Out-Of-Proportion to Games Played at the Browns’ Stadium

On April 30, 2015, out-of-state professional football players earned victories against the City of Cleveland, Ohio.  In a pair of cases decided by the Ohio Supreme Court, the court first struck the City’s method of allocating a nonresident professional athlete’s compensation as unconstitutional, and later that day ruled that the city tax cannot reach the income of a nonresident athlete who was not present in the Cleveland when the Browns hosted his team.

In Hillenmeyer v. Cleveland Bd. of Review, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-1623 (Ohio Apr. 30, 2015), Hunter Hillenmeyer, a former linebacker for the Chicago Bears, appealed the denial of his claims for refunds of income taxes paid to Cleveland.  Hillenmeyer argued that he paid too much tax to the city because the city’s method of allocating his compensation overstated his income earned in the city.  Cleveland had applied a “games-played” method to allocate a nonresident professional athlete’s income, meaning that the city’s taxing ratio was the number of games played in Cleveland over the total number of games played during a year.  Under this method, a visiting football player who travels to Cleveland for one game out of a 20 game season (including preseason and regular season games in a non-playoff season) would have 5 percent of his income allocated to and taxable by the city.

Hillenmeyer argued that this method ignored the fact that his compensation, like that of other players in the National Football League (NFL), was based not only on games played, but also on a mandatory mini camp following the NFL draft, preseason training camp (including preseason games, practices and meetings), practices and game preparation during the regular season, and postseason games and practice (if necessary).  None of these other activities occurred in Cleveland.

The court agreed with Hillenmeyer, finding the city’s games-played method overstated Hillenmeyer’s Cleveland income tax liability.  The court ruled the games-played method unconstitutional on due process grounds on the basis that it imposed tax on income earned outside of Cleveland.  The court reasoned that for taxation of a nonresident’s compensation to comport with due process, the tax base—the work performed—must be performed in the taxing jurisdiction.  Additionally, relying on precedent applying the state income tax to a nonresident Cincinnati Reds player, the court also held that a nonresident professional athlete’s total work performed should include not only games played, but all activities for which the athlete was compensated, including preseason training.

Applying these principles, the court adopted Hillenmeyer’s proposed method of allocation—utilized by other jurisdictions—and termed the “duty-days” method, as consistent with due process.  Under the “duty-days” method, income is allocated based on the number of work days spent in a city over the total number of work days.  For Hillenmeyer, this equated to 2 days in Cleveland per game.  Applying this method to the years at issue, the court found that Hillenmeyer was entitled to refunds because less than 1.5 percent of his annual compensation was allocable to Cleveland.

Later the same day, in Saturday v. Cleveland [...]

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