The Maryland Comptroller appears to have denied all refund claims for the 2022 digital advertising gross revenues (DAGR) tax! The denial notices were seemingly dated on or around October 11, 2023, and were sent via certified mail two weeks ago. The denial notices require immediate action by taxpayers.
Winter is coming, and so are denials of taxpayer refund claims for return of the illegally extracted Maryland digital ad tax (DAT). Sources in Annapolis report the Maryland Comptroller is preparing denial notices imminently. Taxpayers need to be prepared for quick action once that happens.
According to our intelligence, the denial letters will inform recipients they have 30 days from the date of the notice to petition the Maryland Tax Court for review of the claim denial. Previously, we believed most taxpayers would be shunted to administrative hearings and appeals on their refund claims to wait it out, but it appears that is no longer the case.
Depending on a particular taxpayer’s facts and circumstances, the 30-day ticket to Tax Court may be suspect. Additionally, there may be steps a taxpayer can take now to head off an immediate trip to Tax Court. If you filed a refund claim and want to get to Tax Court quickly, this is all good news. If you filed a refund claim and want to let others litigate ahead of you (knowing that there are two pending lawsuits challenging the DAT), quick action before your refund claim is denied may prevent Comptroller action.
Keep in mind, interest due to you on your refund claim is tied to the date on which you filed the claim and is currently 9% per year.
Taxpayers should immediately evaluate how they perfected their DAT refund claim and whether the refund claim demanded that the Comptroller conduct a hearing. Unless you are prepared to go to Tax Court immediately, there are steps you can take now before your claim is disallowed. If you have already received a notice of disallowance, please contact us to discuss your options.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature have reached an agreement on the state’s fiscal year 2024 budget legislation. Most surprisingly, the legislation grants the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance the right to petition for judicial review of New York State Tax Appeals Tribunal decisions that are “premised on interpretation of the state or federal constitution, international law, federal law, the law of other states, or other legal matters that are beyond the purview of the state legislature.” If the Department appeals a Tribunal decision, any interest and penalties that would otherwise accrue on the underlying tax liability would be stayed until 15 days after the issuance of a final judicial decision. This represents a significant change in law as currently, only taxpayers (and not the Department) may appeal Tribunal decisions.
Other notable provisions in the budget legislation include the following:
- The False Claims Act will now apply to a person who is alleged to have knowingly or improperly failed to file a tax return.
- The top metropolitan commuter transportation mobility tax rate on employers in New York City has been increased from 0.34% to 0.6% of payroll expense.
- The “temporary” top corporate franchise tax rate for taxpayers with a business income base of more than $5 million will stay at 7.25% through 2026 (rather than expiring in 2024), and the scheduled expiration of the franchise tax business capital base has been delayed from 2024 to 2027.
The budget legislation containing these changes in law passed both houses of the New York State Legislature on May 1, 2023, and is expected to be signed by Governor Hochul.
Meaningful Statute of Limitations for Unclaimed Property Audits and Enforcement Actions? Michigan Court of Appeals Says Yes!
On January 19, 2023, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed two 2022 trial court orders, holding that initiating an unclaimed property audit does not toll (or freeze) the running of the statute of limitations (time-bar) for the Michigan State Treasurer to commence “an action or proceeding” with respect to a duty of a holder. As most holders are well aware, unclaimed property audits are extremely invasive and burdensome and, unlike other types of audits conducted by states, often drag on for a decade or more before the state will issue a formal notice and demand—covering multiple years and looking back from the date of the original audit notice (often 10 or 15 years). This dynamic has created an audit framework that sets holders up for failure (really, who has complete books and records that far back?) and results in millions of unclaimed property being reported to states because of record limitations alone and third-party audit firms being handsomely paid for their time spent.
The Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision calls this entire model (some would say scheme) into question and could drastically change how holder audits look, feel and proceed in the unclaimed property world going forward. Even more importantly for holders currently under audit, these decisions could drastically narrow the scope of the open periods covered by the audit for Michigan and other states with similar unclaimed property statute of limitations.
Practice Note: While the common sense holding in this case is well established in the tax realm, it has long been the position of unclaimed property administrators and their third-party audit firms that the commencement of an audit alone freezes the statute of limitations and allows them to enforce the duties of holders looking back from that date. This (now precedential) Michigan Court of Appeals decision flies in the face of that long-standing view and calls into question whether peer states with similar unclaimed property statute of limitations are barred from enforcing transaction years being reviewed under pending audits. Because the Michigan unclaimed property statute of limitations is modeled off a provision contained in the 1981 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (which has been adopted by many states and incorporated in the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act approved in 2016), this is not a Michigan-specific victory and one that should be explored further for holders under audit by other states as well. Showing the nationwide importance of these Michigan cases, the National Association of State Treasurers filed an amicus brief through its affiliate, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, with the Michigan Court of Appeals in July 2022; however, their arguments were not enough to convince the Court to modify the trial court decision interpreting the plain language of the statute of limitations and uphold the trial court ruling in favor of the holders.
The State Treasurer filed an application for leave to appeal the Michigan Court of Appeals opinion to the Michigan Supreme Court (the state court of last resort, which has [...]
On December 3, 2021, the Maryland Comptroller published notice of its adoption of the digital advertising gross revenues tax regulations (which was originally proposed on October 8, 2021). Per the Maryland Administrative Procedure Act, the final adopted regulations will go into effect in 10 calendar days, or December 13, 2021. (See Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t § 10-117(a)(1).)
The final regulations were adopted almost entirely as proposed, with just two minor changes that the Attorney General (AG) of Maryland certified as non-substantive. Specifically, the changes to the October 8 proposed regulations concern the information that may be used to determine the location of a device and are described by the AG as follows:
- Regulation .02(C): The Comptroller is clarifying language regarding the allowable sources of information a taxpayer may use to determine the location of a device. Specifically, this final action amendment changes “both technical information and the terms of the underlying contract” to “both technical information and nontechnical information included in the contract.”
- Regulation .02(C)(2): The Comptroller is amending the non-exhaustive list of technical information to include “industry standard metrics.”
Practice Note: While “industry standard metrics” is a nice addition to the list of sources that may be used to determine the location of devices for sourcing purposes, significant and fundamental questions and concerns submitted as part of the comments were not addressed by the Comptroller in adopting the final digital ad tax regulations. The tax is subject to multiple lawsuits (both state and federal court) and pending a court order to the contrary is scheduled to take effect beginning January 1, 2022, with the first filing obligation for large taxpayers in April 2022. Taxpayers grappling with how to comply with this new tax are encouraged to contact the authors.
Like the days of the Old West, last week a masked gang held up local businesses demanding their wallets. Unlike the days of the Old West, this was not the hole-in-the-wall gang, but the California State Assembly who, on June 10, 2020, approved AB 2570, a bill that authorizes tax-based false claims actions. If passed, AB 2570 would expand the California False Claims Act (CFCA) to allow private, profit-motivated parties to bring punitive civil enforcement tax-based lawsuits. The bill now heads to the California Senate where its predecessor bill, AB 1270, failed last year.
According to the bill’s author, Assembly Member Mark Stone, there are two key differences between AB 2570 and last year’s AB 1270. First, AB 2570’s definition of “prosecuting authority” has been revised to remove the term “counsel retained by a political subdivision to act on its behalf.” In his comments on the Assembly floor, Stone explained that this amendment was “sought by the bill’s opponents” as it prevents local governments from contracting with private attorneys to bring tax CFCA lawsuits.
Second, AB 2570 mandates that a plaintiff’s complaint must be kept under seal for 60 days and can only be served on a defendant by court order. According to Stone, this second amendment will prevent qui tam attorneys from bringing suit if they send demand letters to the taxpayer before the expiration of this 60-day period.
Although these amendments are minor improvements upon last year’s bill, they are not enough to prevent the rampant abuse that will certainly accompany an expansion of the CFCA. Moreover, as Stone has acknowledged AB 2570 rests on the faulty premise that insider information is generally required to establish a “successful” tax enforcement claim. In his comments to the assembly, Stone stated:
No one questions the ability of the Franchise Tax Board and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) to skillfully administer the tax law within their respective jurisdictions. This bill, rather, rests on the premise that there are individuals—often current or former employees of a company—who have access to information establishing that tax authorities have been misled as to the amounts owed by the company. These cases are difficult to uncover without the cooperation of an insider because there is no other way to bring the relevant documents and information to light if a company is determined to commit fraud.
However, as evidenced by the states where an FCA has been expanded to tax cases, such as Illinois and New York, very few FCA tax cases involve internal whistleblowers, actual fraud or reckless disregard of clear law. Instead, they typically involve inadvertent errors or good-faith interpretations of murky tax law. As a result, expanding the CFCA to tax claims will only serve to hurt good-faith taxpayers who are already struggling to survive and recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19. Such legislation could force taxpayers to incur enormous costs or pressure them into settlements to make the case go away to avoid the [...]
Once again, San Francisco has shown leadership in addressing property tax relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, May 4, 2020, the San Francisco County Assessor announced that she was moving the deadline for businesses to file their Business Property Statements (Form 571-L) to June 1 of this year, due to physical office closure of the San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder.
Normally, under state law, a 10 percent penalty automatically attaches when a taxpayer’s business property statement is filed after May 7. But, if May 7 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, then a property statement that is mailed and postmarked on the next business day is deemed to have been timely filed. Under the applicable statue, legal holidays include days when the county’s offices are closed for the entire day.
California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, and Assembly Member Mark Stone have again advanced legislation that would amend the California False Claims Act (CFCA) to enlist private bounty hunters to go after California taxpayers. Becerra described the latest bill, AB 2570, as an additional tool to combat against “corporate cheats” whom Becerra claimed cost the state billions in lost revenue in 2019. Of course, the state already possesses an arsenal of tools to combat any underreporting: currently, the power to investigate cases of suspected tax fraud rests with the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). Thus, as many of the predecessor bill’s critics have adeptly noted, AB 2570 is more appropriately characterized as a “solution in search of a problem.”
The text of AB 2570 is almost identical to its predecessor, AB 1270, which failed to make it out of the legislature last year, and has likely given California’s business-savvy taxpayers a sense of dread-filled déjà vu. AB 1270 came under intense opposition last summer because, as seen in other states, allowing qui tam plaintiffs to initiate civil suits for state and local tax issues leads to abusive practices and undermines the goal of voluntary compliance in tax administration.
Like AB 1270, AB 2570 is replete with problematic provisions, including: (1) the imposition of a separate statute of limitations that will arguably trump any shorter limitations periods imposed by the Revenue & Taxation Code (See Cal. Gov’t Code § 12654(a) which permits claims under the CFCA to be pursued for up to 10 years after the date the violation was committed, compared to standard three or four years for tax audits); (2) a more lenient burden of proof for elements of an alleged violation; and, (3) extremely punitive damages—violators are subject to treble damages (i.e., three times the amount of the underreported tax, interest and penalties), an additional civil penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 for each violation, plus the costs of the civil action to recover the damages and penalties including attorney’s fees.
Unfortunately, private enforcement of state tax code violations has erupted over the past few years after whistleblowers in New York and Illinois purportedly have racked up multimillion dollar settlements as the result of such claims. If enacted, AB 2570 will open the floodgates to a slew of financially incentivized plaintiffs’ attorneys who are eager to enter the litigation lottery in hopes of winning a jackpot settlement payout from California’s taxpayers.
As discussed in our blog post from August 26, 2019, Vultures Circling as Bill to Expand California FCA to Tax Looms in Legislature, regarding AB 1270, when a false claims suit is filed by a private plaintiff (or relator) in a qui tam action, the recovered damages or settlement proceeds are divided between the state and the relator, with the relator permitted to recover up to 50% of the proceeds. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 12652(g)(3). Thus, this practice can be very lucrative for aggressive plaintiff’s attorneys.
As previously announced, the Illinois Department of Revenue has begun a new amnesty program, running October 1 through November 15, 2019. All taxes paid to the Illinois Department of Revenue for taxable periods ending after June 30, 2011, and prior to July 1, 2018, are eligible for amnesty with relief from penalties and interest. Unlike prior Illinois programs, taxpayers who do not participate in amnesty will not be subject to double interest or penalty charges on subsequent audit assessments for taxes that were eligible for amnesty. A link to the Illinois Department of Revenue forms for its amnesty program is attached here.
The Illinois Secretary of State also offers an amnesty program running from October 1 through November 15, 2019, for corporate franchise taxes related to periods ending after March 15, 2008, and on or before June 30, 2019. In light of the phase-out of the corporate franchise tax by January 1, 2024 (enacted by Public Act 101-9), participants in the amnesty program should proceed with extreme caution. For more information, the Secretary of State has published a Fact Sheet and form of Petition on its website: https://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/business_services/home.html.
Legislators in Sacramento are mulling over one of the most (if not the most) troubling state and local tax bills of the past decade. AB 1270, introduced earlier this year and passed by the Assembly in late May, would amend the California False Claims Act (CFCA) to remove the “tax bar,” a prohibition that exists in the federal False Claims Act and the vast majority of states with similar laws.
If enacted, this bill will open the door for a cottage industry of financially driven plaintiffs’ lawyers to act as bounty hunters in the state and local tax arena. California taxpayers would be forced to defend themselves in high-stakes civil investigations and/or litigation—even when the Attorney General’s Office (AG) declines to intervene. As seen in other states, this racket leads to abusive practices and undermines the goal of voluntary compliance in tax administration. (more…)