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.

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.

Ever since Alabama’s new economic nexus regulation went into effect, litigation over its constitutionality has been expected given that Alabama Commissioner Julie Magee and Governor Bentley said as much when announcing it (Rule 810-6-2-.90.03, effective January 1, 2016).  It appears that they finally got their wish. On June 8, 2016, Newegg Inc. (Newegg) filed a Notice of Appeal in the Alabama Tax Tribunal challenging the Alabama Department of Revenue (DOR) Notice of Final Assessment of Sellers Use Tax (Assessment) that was entered on May 12, 2016. The Assessment is for seller’s use tax, interest and penalties for the months of January and February 2016 (the Assessment Period), which represent the first two months the new regulation was in effect.

The Alabama litigation comes on the heels of the litigation in South Dakota, which also involves Newegg and other retailers. Although the critical issue in both is whether economic nexus is constitutional, given that the Alabama imposition is through a regulation and not a statute, the arguments in each state’s litigation may not be parallel.

DOR Explanation of the Assessment

The DOR asserts that under the new regulation Newegg has a “substantial economic presence” in Alabama.  According to Newegg, the DOR “has offered no basis for its determination” that the regulation’s requirements were satisfied during the Assessment Period. Specifically, Newegg notes that the DOR “conclusion appears to be based solely upon the fact that Newegg had ‘significant sales into Alabama,’ i.e., more than $250,000 of retail sales to Alabama customers.”

Newegg’s Grounds for Appeal

Newegg requests that the Tax Tribunal cancel the Assessment, citing the following grounds as the primary basis:

  1. The application of the new regulation to Newegg (and the Assessment) are unconstitutional because Newegg did not (and does not) have the necessary physical presence required to satisfy the “substantial nexus” standard for sales and use taxes under the Commerce Clause, as described by the US Supreme Court in Quill.
  2. The new regulation is invalid because retailers must “lack an Alabama physical presence” for it to apply. Therefore, it conflicts with both the Alabama sales and use tax statutes and the US Constitution, each of which requires a physical presence in the state by (or on behalf of) the retailer.
  3. The application of the new regulation to an internet retailer with no physical presence in Alabama is inconsistent with the authorizing seller’s use tax statute. Specifically, none of the provisions of the sales and use tax statutes (or any other provision in the Alabama Code) authorize the DOR to impose seller’s use tax collection obligations on internet retailers with no physical presence in the state.

The State of Nexus in Other States

The Alabama litigation represents the third prominent nexus case that involves Newegg.  Not only is the company involved in South Dakota (see our prior coverage of the South Dakota lawsuits here), but it is also one of the three taxpayers involved in the Ohio Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) litigation (see our prior coverage of the Ohio lawsuits here). All three cases involve the imposition of nexus on a company without physical presence in the taxing state, one with respect to a gross receipts tax (the Ohio CAT), and the others with respect to sales and use taxes.

On May 25, 2016, the fast-tracked lawsuit filed by South Dakota was (at least temporarily) slowed down when defendants filed a Notice of Removal (Notice) in the US District Court for the District of South Dakota. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiff (South Dakota here) has 30 days (i.e., until June 24, 2016) to file a motion to remand based on a defect in the removal procedure. However, a claim based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time. According to the Notice and accompanying documentation, the basis for removal is federal question jurisdiction. Because the defendants notified the state court, the state court is likely deprived of jurisdiction to act unless the federal court remands the case back to state court. If South Dakota proceeds with the litigation in federal court, it will lose the benefits of the expedited state court appeal process enacted by Senate Bill 106. Only time will tell how the case proceeds.

Practice Note

As judicial challenges to the continued viability of Quill move further along (with Alabama now joining South Dakota as a state with potential Quill litigation pending), the impact on the status of federal legislation remains to be seen. Speaking before the Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA) yesterday, Commissioner Magee pointed out that 41 remote sellers have signed up for Alabama’s Simplified Sellers Use Tax Program, which allows them to avoid the application of the new economic nexus regulation. The Commissioner proudly touted revenue raised in excess of $1 million in the first calendar quarter of 2016 alone. Although we only know of the Newegg case at this point, it’s likely that there are many other assessments and suits to come in Alabama.

During yesterday’s FTA panel presentation on the topic (by Commissioner Magee, South Dakota Secretary Andy Gerlach, COST’s Fred Nicely and Steve Kranz) and conversations that followed, tax administrators in a number of states expressed a willingness to accept prospective voluntary disclosure agreements (VDA’s) from remote retailers. See our prior article explaining why taxpayers should say no to standard VDA lookback periods. In states where a risk of retroactive application exists (or where the taxpayer is going to begin filing anyway) it makes sense to explore the possibility of a prospective arrangement and ensure the state does not seek backward-looking compliance with their new law or position. It should be noted that, unlike South Dakota, the Alabama regulation does not contain any provisions regarding retroactivity.  The regulation took effect as of January 1, 2016, and, ostensibly, liability for retailers not collecting and remitting is accumulating. Retailers should review their positions regarding Alabama and determine the potential liability.  Retroactivity was a significant issue in the Quill case and, unlike South Dakota, there is no statute limiting the effect of a judicial decision to a prospective basis. How this will affect the litigation remains to be seen.

This post is a follow-up to a previous post from April 21, 2016.

Introduction

On March 22, 2016, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law Senate Bill 106, which requires any person making more than $100,000 of South Dakota sales or more than 200 separate South Dakota sales transactions to collect and remit sales tax. The requirement applies to sales made on or after May 1, 2016.

The law clearly challenges the physical presence requirement under Quill, and that’s precisely what the legislature intended. The law seeks to force a challenge to the physical presence rule as soon as possible and speed that challenge through the courts.

As we discussed in our earlier post, the big question in response to the legislation was whether taxpayers should register to collect tax.  For those who did not register, an injunction is now in place barring enforcement of the provisions until the litigation is resolved.

Last night and this morning two different declaratory judgment suits were filed in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court of South Dakota regarding S.B. 106’s constitutionality, and more may follow. As has already been reported in a few outlets, one of these cases is American Catalog Mailers Association and NetChoice v. Gerlach (the ACMA Suit).  In ACMA, the plaintiffs are trade associations representing catalog marketers and e-commerce retailers.  The complaint can be found here.

What has yet to be widely reported is the other suit.  This suit (the State Suit) was filed by South Dakota.  Letters sent by South Dakota indicated that identified retailers needed to register by April 25.  Because the new law does not become effective until May 1, many observers thought that South Dakota might wait to file until after that date.  However, the suits have already been filed.

Continue Reading BREAKING NEWS: Sales Tax Battle Breaks Out in South Dakota; Quill’s Last Stand?

Introduction

On March 22, 2016, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law Senate Bill 106, which requires any person making more than $100,000 of South Dakota sales or more than 200 separate South Dakota sales transactions to collect and remit sales tax. The requirement applies to sales made on or after May 1, 2016.

The law clearly violates the physical-presence requirement under Quill, and that’s precisely what the legislature intended. The law is intended to force a challenge to the physical presence rule as soon as possible.

The South Dakota Department of Revenue (Department) has begun taking steps to enforce the law. We are aware that remote sellers recently received letters from the Department giving the sellers a deadline of April 25, 2016 to either register with the state and commit to collection, or notify the Department that the seller does not meet the law’s gross receipts/sales transactions thresholds. If the seller does neither of these things, South Dakota will assume that the seller does not intend to comply and that South Dakota may initiate legal action against the seller under the new law.

Remote sellers who have received these letters, as well as any other remote sellers who have exposure under the new law, are probably looking for answers to one question: Should we register and begin collecting? There are two important issues to discuss in determining whether to comply: (1) retroactivity and (2) refunds. Continue Reading Should I Register in South Dakota?