On August 31, 2017, in a 4-3 split decision, the Virginia Supreme Court (Court) affirmed a circuit court’s ruling that in order for income to qualify for the “subject-to-tax” exception to its addback statute, the income must actually be taxed by another state. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc. v. Va. Dep’t of Taxation, no. 160681 (Va. Aug. 31, 2017). A copy of the Opinion (Op) is available here. The Court, however, did find for the taxpayer on its alternative argument, concluding that the determination of where income was “actually taxed” includes combined return and addback states, in addition to separate return states, and includes income subject to tax in the hands of the payor, not just the recipient. For our prior coverage of the subject-to-tax exception, see here.

The issue here was whether Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc. (Kohl’s), which operates retail stores throughout the United States (including Virginia), was required to “add back” to its income royalties it paid to a related party for the use of intellectual property owned by that party. Kohl’s deducted the royalty payments as ordinary and necessary business expenses in the computation of its federal income, and the recipient related party included the royalty income in its taxable income calculations in the states in which it filed returns, including both separate and combined reporting states. The Court considered whether the royalty payments paid by Kohl’s must be “added backed” to Kohl’s taxable income under Virginia law, or whether the royalties fell within Virginia’s “subject-to-tax” exception.
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Separate return state addback statutes, such as the Virginia addback statute, can overreach to produce an unfair and potentially unconstitutional overstatement of income assigned to the state.  Recently Virginia amended its addback statute retroactively 10 years to taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2004.  The legislation is intended to codify an administrative interpretation