Remote Retailers Held Responsible for Tax Collection in Washington

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the Washington Court of Appeals’ recent holding in Orthotic Shop Inc. and S&F Corporation v. Department of Revenue, No. 39321-6-III (Jan. 23, 2024), it’s that the use of a marketplace does not eliminate a remote seller’s tax responsibilities, particularly for pre-Wayfair periods.

The dispute in Orthotic Shop involved a retailing business and occupation tax (B&O tax) and a retailing sales tax assessment against two merchants for sales they made on an online retailer’s website. The audit report asserted that the merchants were “retailers” who maintained a nexus to Washington because they maintained a stock of goods in the online retailer’s warehouses located in the state. As such, the audit report concluded that the merchants were liable for retailing B&O tax and sales tax on sales to Washington customers made via the online retailer’s website.

The merchants admitted before the Court of Appeals that they sold their goods to consumers and not to the online retailer. However, the merchants challenged the assessment and argued that the online retailer’s provision of fulfillment services necessarily rendered it a “consignee” responsible for remitting retailing B&O tax and sales tax on transactions facilitated through its website in accordance with WAC 458-20-159. The merchants also asserted that the assessment was unfair because they lacked an understanding that they could incur a tax collection liability in Washington through the storage of their merchandise in an in-state warehouse.

The Court of Appeals determined that the merchants failed to show that the online retailer was a consignee with sole responsibility for tax collection. “A consignee,” the Court of Appeals explained, “makes sales on behalf of the consignor.” By contrast, the merchants’ product pages on the marketplace’s website listed the merchants as the sellers, not the online retailer. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals concluded: “[s]ince the merchants sold to buyers, they are liable for retailing B&O tax on those sales.”

The merchants’ failure to list the online retailer as the “seller” on their respective sales pages was also fatal to their argument that they were not liable for retailing sales tax on sales made via the online retailer’s website. The Department of Revenue’s administrative rules explain that while a consignee is responsible for collecting and remitting sales tax on sales made in its own name, when the consignee is selling in the name of the consignor, the consignor may instead report and remit the retail sales tax. Here, the Court of Appeals noted that while the online retailer’s agreement with the merchants provided that it would remit the sales tax if the merchants asked it to do so, neither merchant made such a request.

The Court of Appeals also was unimpressed by the merchants’ assertions that they did not understand that they could establish physical presence nexus and incur a tax liability based on the storage of their goods at a warehouse in the state. The Court of Appeals explained that ignorance of the law, was not an acceptable defense.

CASE TAKEAWAYS

Although Orthotic Shop [...]

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Vermont Considers Imposing Mandatory Worldwide Combined Reporting

The Vermont House Committee on Ways and Means is actively exploring a proposal to become the first state to enact mandatory worldwide combined reporting for corporate income tax purposes. While legislation has not been formally proposed, the Committee has examined a working draft that could be embedded into a broader tax legislation package.

In Committee testimony supporting the adoption of mandatory worldwide combined reporting, Don Griswold, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argued that multinational corporations “pay huge fees to sophisticated advisers to develop an endless variety of complex schemes that shift their profits offshore.” According to him, mandatory worldwide combined reporting would be “the complete solution” to stopping what he perceives as a “loophole for massive tax avoidance.” He also intimated that several companies are among those he believes are currently engaging in “tax avoidance,” even though he freely acknowledged that he worked in a “Big 4 accounting firm’s 600-person ‘state tax minimization’ group” for most of his career.

On the other hand, at least one representative from the Vermont Department of Taxes has suggested that worldwide mandatory combined reporting is not the panacea that Griswold claims it would be. In Committee testimony, Will Baker, assistant attorney general and general counsel at the Department of Taxes, pointed out that a corporation’s Vermont taxable income could increase or decrease under worldwide combined reporting depending on the profitability of the corporation’s domestic and overseas subsidiaries and the locations of the corporate unitary group’s sales throughout the world. Baker also suggested that the Department of Taxes would face practical challenges calculating the income of subsidiaries that are not part of a corporate filing at the US federal level. Finally, he added that “small states” should generally “have the same rules that other states have” to make it easier for taxpayers to comply with Vermont law.

The McDermott state & local tax team will be closely monitoring this legislative proposal to see whether the Vermont General Assembly takes heed of the advice of its own officials at the Department of Taxes.




Following Maryland’s Lead? We Guess Everyone Wants to Go to Court. Icy Challenges to Nebraska’s Advertising Services Tax Act Start to Emerge

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen’s ambitious plan to provide $2 billion in property tax relief via an increase in the sales tax rate and an expansion of the sales tax base is stirring significant debate. Part of his proposal is embodied in the newly introduced Legislative Bills 1310 and 1354, known as the “Advertising Services Tax Act” (the Act), which aims to finance this tax relief by imposing a 7.5% gross revenue tax on advertising services. However, this initiative faces a wall of voter opposition. A recent Battleground Connect survey revealed that 70% of likely voters disapproved of increasing the sales tax rate to offset property taxes. It should come as no surprise that Nebraska voters would not want to follow Maryland’s lead. What is surprising is that Nebraska legislators are willing to tie the fate of their new tax to a law that is currently being challenged in court in Maryland after the state adopted a similar tax in 2021.

The heart of the controversy lies in the new advertising tax’s specifics. The tax only targets firms with US gross advertising receipts exceeding $1 billion, a threshold that effectively discriminates against out-of-state advertising service providers and implicates constitutional and federal laws governing interstate commerce.

The proposed law specifically excludes “news media entities” and targets out-of-state digital advertising platforms. “Advertising services” incorporates a range of services, including digital advertising services, related to advertisement creation and dissemination. The term also includes “online referrals, search engine marketing and lead generation optimization, web campaign planning, the acquisition of advertising space in the Internet media, and the monitoring and evaluation of website traffic for purposes of determining the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.” Advertising services does not include services provided by entities “engaged primarily in the business of news gathering, reporting, or publishing articles or commentary about news, current events, culture, or other matters of public interest.” A news media entity does not include “an entity that is primarily an aggregator or republisher of third-party content.” Taxing publishers of one type of content and not taxing others raises profound First Amendment concerns.

While facially the Act applies to all advertising, its real focus is on digital and internet advertising and this targeting raises multiple legal and policy concerns:

  • Impact on Nebraska Businesses and Consumers. The tax, though imposed largely on out-of-state service providers, will be passed through directly to local businesses when they buy advertising. Much like a sales tax, service providers can and will add a line-item charge of 7.5% on each invoice to the local business placing the advertisement, driving up the cost of advertising services for Nebraska businesses. These higher costs will be reflected in the prices of goods and services sold to Nebraska consumers or the profits of local businesses.
  • Potential for Litigation. Drawing parallels with Maryland’s digital advertising tax, which faced legal challenges and has already once been ruled unconstitutional and barred by federal law, Nebraska’s legislation would also lead to costly and [...]

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New York Formally Adopts Corporate Tax Reform Regulations

On December 27, 2023, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (Department) adopted corporate tax reform regulations addressing New York’s corporate tax reform effective in 2015. The adopted regulations are consistent with the proposed regulations released in August 2023 and only include what the Department has called “minor clarifying and technical changes.”

Although public comments submitted in response to the proposed regulations expressed various concerns over the possibility that the regulations would be applied retroactive to their formal adoption, the Department announced that the regulations will “generally apply to taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2015.” However, the Department announced that, “based on a totality of the circumstances,” it “may choose not to apply penalties in cases where taxpayers took a position in their tax filings prior to adoption of the proposed rule in reliance upon prior [adopted corporate tax] regulations or prior drafts of the proposed” regulations.




Action Required: Maryland Denies All Ad Tax Refund Claims

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.

Read more here.




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