Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (Department) sent letters to several companies regarding Directive 17-1. The Directive announces a “rule” requiring remote internet sellers to register for and begin collecting Massachusetts sales and use tax (sales tax) by July 1, 2017, if they had more than $500,000 in Massachusetts sales during the preceding year. The legal premise behind the rule is that the Department believes sellers with more than $500,000 in annual Massachusetts sales must have more than a de minimis physical presence so that requiring sales tax collection would not be prohibited by Quill Corp v. North Dakota, 504 US 298 (1992). The Directive’s examples of such physical presence include the presence of cookies on purchasers’ computers, use of third-party carriers to make white-glove deliveries and the use of online marketplaces to sell products. The Directive also states that sellers who fail to collect tax beginning July 1, 2017 will be subject to interest and penalties (plus, of course, any uncollected taxes).

We think the Directive is contrary to law on three main grounds. First, we believe that the items that the Department asserts create physical presence are insufficient to establish more than a de minimis physical presence. For example, the presence of cookies on computers in a state appears to be less of a physical presence than the floppy disks the seller in Quill sent into North Dakota (which were used by its customers to place orders) that the United States Supreme Court viewed as de minimis. Second, the Directive violates the state administrative procedures act because it constitutes an administrative rule that was not validly adopted. Third, the Directive’s rule violates the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a federal statute, because the rule discriminates against internet sellers.

By its own terms, the Directive applies only prospectively. The Directive does not assert a blanket rule that internet sellers are liable for sales tax for periods prior to July 1, 2017, if they met a certain sales threshold. The risks from non-collection for such periods are dependent on a company’s specific facts. The letters advise sellers that they may be eligible for voluntary disclosure for such prior periods.

Companies have two general options: (1) register and begin collecting or (2) not register or collect. Litigation has been brought on behalf of a number of sellers to challenge the Directive on the grounds identified above. One important aspect of that litigation is the request for an injunction barring the enforcement of the Directive pending a court decision; an injunction would likely prompt many sellers to take a “wait and see” approach. Ultimately, sellers must make a business decision based on their own facts and business circumstances.

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. Continue Reading DC Council Introduces False Claims Expansion – Taxpayers Beware!

On Saturday, April 1, 2017, the Delaware Department of Finance (DOF) promulgated two regulations that would repeal all existing unclaimed property regulations and replace them with a single DOF regulation containing a revised Reporting and Examination Manual. The Secretary of State (SOS) also promulgated a regulation that outlines the method of estimation to be used for participants in the Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) Program. These promulgations are in accordance with the General Assembly’s instructions to do so in Senate Bill 13, which was passed in January and enacted by Governor John Carney on February 2, 2017. Any written submission in response to these regulations must be sent to the respective agency by Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 4:30PM EST. Continue Reading Delaware Proposes Unclaimed Property Regulations – No April Fools

On January 16, Governor Cuomo introduced the 2018 New York State Executive Budget Legislation. The bill proposes a number of changes to the New York State sales tax law. Below is a summary of the highlights.

Sales and Use Tax

  • “Marketplace Providers”

The governor’s bill proposes to impose sales tax registration and collection requirements, traditionally imposed on vendors, on “marketplace providers.” This provision is essentially an effort to obtain sales tax on sales to New York customers that make purchases over the internet from companies that have no physical presence in New York and do not collect sales tax in New York when those companies make sales through online marketplaces. In the governor’s Memorandum of Support of this bill, he affirmatively states that “the bill does not expand the rules concerning sales tax nexus”. Although, as noted below, this claim may not be true.

The bill effectively shifts the sales tax collection burden from the traditional vendor to the marketplace provider. The bill defines marketplace provider as “a person who, pursuant to an agreement with a marketplace seller, facilitates sales of tangible personal property by such marketplace seller or sellers.”

A person “facilitates a sale of tangible personal property” if the person meets both of the following conditions:

(i) such person  provides the  forum  by which the sale takes place, including a shop, store, or booth, an  internet  website,  a catalog,  or  a similar  forum;  and

(ii) such person or an affiliate of such person collects the receipts paid by a customer  to  a marketplace  seller  for  a  sale  of  tangible  personal  property.

The bill caveats that “a person who facilitates sales exclusively by means of the internet is not a marketplace provider for a sales tax quarter when such person can show that it has facilitated less than one hundred million dollars of sales annually for every calendar year after [2015].”

Unlike the definition of the term “vendor” in the current Tax Law, the definition of “marketplace provider” does not contain a doing business or physical presence component. Accordingly, despite the governor’s assertion that the bill does not expand the rules concerning sales tax nexus, this provision may expand the sales tax nexus rules by potentially imposing a sales tax collection obligation on marketplace providers that do not have a physical presence in New York.

In an effort to minimize the number of entities with a collection requirement, the bill provides that if a marketplace seller obtains a certificate of collection from the marketplace provider, it is not required to collect sales tax as a vendor.  The bill caveats that if the marketplace provider and the marketplace seller are affiliated parties, and the marketplace provider fails to collect the tax, the marketplace seller will remain liable for the sales tax.  For such purposes, parties are affiliated if they have as little as five percent of common ownership.

The proposed legislation would not permit marketplace sellers that sell to customers in New York through a marketplace provider to collect the sales tax themselves. One suggestion is to include a provision that allows marketplace sellers to collect the tax based on an agreement with the marketplace provider.

The bill provides some protection for marketplace providers if their failure to collect the correct amount of tax is due to incorrect information given to the provider by the marketplace seller.  Again, affiliated parties would not get this protection.

The bill proposes that the act take effect on September 1, 2017 and apply prospectively.

  • Related Entity Sales Tax Issues

The governor’s bill proposes amendments to the resale exclusion in an effort to stop companies from purchasing high-dollar-value property for resale to their affiliates, then leasing the property using a long-term lease or for a small fraction of the property’s fair market value thereby avoiding much of the sales tax on the transaction.

The governor’s bill proposes to solve the problem by eliminating the resale exclusion for (1) sales to a single member LLC or subsidiary that is disregarded for federal tax purposes for resale to its owner or parent company; (2) sales to a partnership for resale to one or more of its partners; and (3) sales to a trustee of a trust for resale to one or more of the beneficiaries of the trust.

This provision is broader than necessary to accomplish its goal since the provision also eliminates the resale exclusion for arms-length, good-faith transactions between related entities, thus potentially subjecting certain transactions to double taxation–once when the property is sold to the single member LLC, for example, and again when it is resold by the LLC to its owner.

The bill proposes that this section take effect immediately.

  • Use Tax Exemption for Nonresidents

In response to the New York State Division of Taxation’s and the Attorney General’s recent focus on sales and use tax issues involving the sale of artwork, the governor’s bill proposes to provide an exception to the use tax exemption for the use of property or services in New York purchased by the user while the user was a nonresident. The governor’s goal is to prevent New York residents from creating foreign entities to purchase property (usually artwork) outside of New York and subsequently bringing the property into New York and avoiding the use tax.

The bill provides that the use tax exemption for nonresidents will not apply if the nonresident business has not been doing business outside the state for at least six months prior to the date that such nonresident brought the property or service into New York. This provision does not apply to individual nonresidents.

Again, this provision may be broader than necessary to “catch” those avoiding tax using the use tax exemption. This provision may impact businesses acting in good-faith without a tax avoidance scheme. A better idea may be to provide that a nonresident company will lose the use tax exemption if the company has no valid business purpose and was created solely to avoid tax.

The bill proposes that this section take effect immediately.

  • Transportation, Transmission or Distribution of Gas or Electric

The governor’s bill also proposes the making of a technical change to NY Tax Law § 1105-C to clarify that sales tax is imposed on charges for transporting, transmitting, or delivering gas or electricity when the company providing the transportation, transmission, or distribution is also the provider of the commodity. This amendment is intended only to clarify the existing law.

The bill proposes that this section take effect immediately.

On January 26, 2017, the Delaware House approved comprehensive unclaimed property rewrite legislation (SB 13) that was passed by the Senate (with committee amendments) last week.  Our summary of many of the key provisions of the bill (as introduced) is available here.  Because the amended version of SB 13 has now passed both chambers of the General Assembly, it will be sent to Governor John C. Carney Jr. for signature, and will become effective immediately upon his approval.  Rumors are circling that follow-up legislation is likely, and may be considered this session. Senate Amendment The Senate Amendment adopted by both chambers made relatively minor changes to the introduced legislation. First, it struck all references to and the definition of “net card value” that was used to determine the amount presumed abandoned in the stored-value and gift card context.  As passed today, “the amount unclaimed is amount representing the maximum cost to the issuer of the merchandise, goods, or services represented by the card.”  The 5 year dormancy period tied to “the later of the date of purchase, the addition of funds to the stored-value card or gift card, a verification of the balance by the owner, or the last indication of interest in the property” was not changed. Second, the amendment struck all references to and the definition of “virtual currency.”  This is significant because the introduced version of the legislation expressly included an expansive definition of virtual currency in the definition of “property” subject to escheat.  While the inclusion of virtual currency in the definition of “property” is consistent with the approach taken in the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (RUUPA) adopted by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) last year, the introduced Delaware legislation definition of “virtual currency” omitted two exclusions (the software or protocols governing the transfer of the digital representation of value and game-related digital content) contained in the RUUPA definition that were included after careful consideration to limit the potentially vast scope.  By removing virtual currency entirely from the Delaware legislation, it will not be presumed to be property subject to escheat. Third, the Senate Amendment changes the timeframe that holders currently under audit have to submit a written application to participate in the Secretary of State VDA program or expedited audit process.  As introduced, the Delaware legislation would have required these decisions to be made by July 1, 2017.  As amended (and passed), this period would be extended to within 60 days from the date of the adoption of regulations pertaining to the methods of estimation used. Practice Note With the passage of this legislation, there is a lot for holders to consider.  In particular, holders with an on-going audit will need to make the decision whether to: (1) make an election to join the Secretary of State VDA program; (2) expedite the audit; or (3) continue as-is.  With new penalties and mandatory interest enacted as part of the legislation, securing waiver of penalties and interest should be a top priority and could result in significant savings.  This must be balanced with the holder’s ability to timely comply with document request (required by expedited audit) and desire to appeal the final determination (prohibited for VDA program participants).  Holders under audit should begin these important discussions now, as Delaware is expected to act quickly in preparing the estimation regulations that are tied to the holders decision deadline.

The Delaware General Assembly has introduced legislation that would significantly rewrite the Delaware unclaimed property statute by repealing the three current subchapters and replacing them with a single unclaimed property subchapter. This article highlights key proposed changes in the bill.

Read the full article.

Another federal judge slams Delaware’s unclaimed property audit methodology but rejects the holder’s reliance on the priority rules as a defense to the audit demands. See Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Cook et al., No. 1:16-cv-00080-LPS (D. Del., Sept. 23, 2016)The court recognized the unjustness of Delaware’s audit approach, but followed a previous case finding the priority rules can only be raised by states with competing claims. Continue Reading New Delaware Unclaimed Property Decision Further Complicates Landscape

The court case challenging Delaware’s unclaimed property audit methodologies has settled following an opinion brutalizing Delaware’s position. This settlement leaves the US District Court for the District of Delaware (District Court) holding as precedent, but the issue of what methods Delaware must jettison remains open.

Last Friday, Temple-Inland and Delaware filed a joint motion to dismiss with prejudice in the District Court after the parties agreed to settle the dispute. While the settlement agreement was not publicly disclosed, we understand that Delaware agreed to withdraw its entire assessment (totaling $2,128,834.13) and pay Temple-Inland’s attorneys’ fees and costs, including expert witness reports. The settlement avoids an affirmation by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that Delaware’s audit practices and estimation techniques collectively “shock the conscience,” but remains a significant holder victory given that the Temple-Inland District Court opinion, which is detailed in our prior blog, can now be cited as binding (and finally resolved) precedent by similarly situated holders under audit by the State. Continue Reading Settlement Reached in Temple-Inland; Delaware Internally Reviewing Unclaimed Property Audit Practices

On June 28, 2016, the much-anticipated memorandum opinion of the US District Court for the District of Delaware in Temple-Inland, Inc. v. Cook et al., No. 14-654-GMS was released on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, finding Delaware’s extrapolation methodology and audit techniques collectively violate substantive due process.  According to Judge Gregory M. Sleet, “[t]o put the matter gently, [Delaware has] engaged in a game of ‘gotcha’ that shocks the conscience.”  The opinion also specifically called third-party auditor Kelmar Associates LLC’s formula used for estimation into question, noting that the use of a holder’s calendar sales as the denominator in the ratio used to estimate liability raises questions given the lack of connection between abandoned property and the economy.  In sum, this opinion is a “must read” for any unclaimed property advisor or holder going through a Delaware audit and is likely to have a drastic impact on both on-going and future unclaimed property audits.  Holders should contact their unclaimed property advisors immediately to begin discussing how to proceed based on this groundbreaking development.

Continue Reading Breaking News: Federal Court Finds Delaware’s Unclaimed Property Enforcement “Shocks the Conscience”