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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Approves Sales Tax Apportionment for Software

On May 21, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision affirming the Massachusetts Tax Appeal Board’s decision in favor of Microsoft and Oracle, ruling that the companies may apportion sales tax to other states on software purchased by a Massachusetts company from which the software was accessed and seek a tax refund.

The case involved a claim by vendors for abatement of sales tax collected on software delivered to a location in Massachusetts but accessible from multiple states. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) claimed that the statute gave it the sole right to decide whether the sales price of the software could be apportioned and, if so, the methods the buyer and seller had to use to claim apportionment. Under rules promulgated by the DOR, there are three methods to choose from, such as the purchaser giving the seller an exemption certificate claiming the software would be used in multiple states, none of which the purchaser used. The DOR argued that if a taxpayer did not use one of the methods specified in the rule, no apportionment was permitted. The vendors sought abatement of the tax on the portion of the sales price that could have been apportioned to other states had one of the methods specified under the rule been used. The DOR claimed the abatement procedure was not a permissible method of claiming apportionment.

The court held: (1) the statute gave the purchaser the right of apportionment and it was not up to the DOR to decide whether apportionment was permitted; (2) the abatement procedure is an available method for claiming the apportionment; and (3) the taxpayer was not limited to the procedures specified in the rule for claiming sales price apportionment.

The court’s decision was based in part on separation of powers: “Under the commissioner’s reading of [the statute], the Legislature has delegated to the commissioner the ultimate authority to decide whether to allow apportionment of sales tax on software sold in the Commonwealth and transferred for use outside the Commonwealth.” The court found such a determination represented “a fundamental policy decision that cannot be delegated.”

The Massachusetts rules reviewed by the court have their genesis in amendments to the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) (that never became effective) providing special sourcing rules for, among other things, computer software concurrently available for use in more than one location. Even though Massachusetts is not a member of the SSUTA, officials from the DOR participate in the Streamlined process and apparently brought those amendments home with them and had them promulgated into the Commonwealth’s sales tax rules.

Practice Notes: This case addresses one of the issues with taxing business models in the digital space. This important decision makes clear, at least in Massachusetts, that taxpayers have post-sale opportunities to reduce sales tax liability on sales/purchases of software accessible from other states where tax on the full sales price initially was collected and remitted by the seller.

Taxpayers may have refund opportunities related to this [...]

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Indiana Tax Court Upholds Pharmacy Benefit Management Costs of Performance Approach

The Indiana Tax Court held that a “pharmacy benefit management company” sold services as opposed to tangible personal property for tax years 2011 through 2013. The company’s receipts were properly sourced as revenue from services under the income producing activity/costs of performance rule, which in this case meant that all receipts were sourced outside of Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Revenue (Department) argued that the pharmacy benefit management company’s “receipts from its sale of prescription drugs should have been sourced to Indiana as required for sales of tangible personal property under Indiana Code” because the company’s “primary ‘revenue stream’ was attributable to buying, selling, and delivering prescription drugs in transactions which occurred within [Indiana].”

The court disagreed with the Department, finding “[the pharmacy benefit management company’s] income was derived from providing pharmacy benefit management services and not from selling prescription drugs during the years at issue.” The court looked to the company’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-K filing, observing “[n]one of the emphasized words [in the Form] describe a sale of goods, but instead, describe services. Indeed, nowhere in the designated portion of [the company’s] Form 10-K does the text state that the [company’s] revenue is from the sale of prescription drugs, focusing on facilitating delivery as its discrete service, not as a function of selling a good” (emphasis in the original). On May 1, 2019, Indiana switched from its historical cost of performance sourcing methodology to a market-based sourcing for services, retroactive to January 1, 2019.




Finishing SALT: Inside SALT’s Monthly Recap

Wrapping Up June

Our June 2017 blog posts are available on insidesalt.com, or read each article by clicking on the titles below. To receive the latest on state and local tax news and commentary directly in your inbox as they are posted, click here to subscribe to our email list.

June 5, 2017: Nexus is Crucial, Complex Connection for State Tax Professionals

June 6, 2017: Substitute Alert – Delaware Technical Corrections Bill

June 8, 2017: Inside SALT Event in McDermott Will & Emery’s New York Office

New York, NY: The annual Inside SALT event took place on Thursday, June 8, 2017 in McDermott’s New York office. Tax lawyers Peter Faber, Todd Harrison, Stephen Kranz, Alysse McLoughlin, Art Rosen, Diann Smith and Mark Yopp presented a substantive half-day program highlighting many State and Local Tax updates, including recent changes specific to the New York area, Nexus developments in digital taxation, and news related to apportionment, transfer pricing and unclaimed property. The event had a successful turnout, with tax executives from many of McDermott’s top clients, and culminated in a networking reception.

June 8, 2017: Tax in the City® Event in McDermott Will & Emery’s Chicago Office

Established in 2014 by McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Tax in the City® is a discussion and networking group for women in tax that fosters collaboration and mentorship and facilitates in-person connections and roundtable study group events around the country.

McDermott’s second Tax in the City® meeting of the year took place on Thursday, June 8, 2017 in the Chicago office. The event began with a CLE/CPE presentation on Privilege and the Ethics of Connectivity. After a break for lunch and networking around the room, the program continued with a roundtable discussion focusing on best practices for drafting tax provisions in commercial contracts. Kristen Hazel spoke about drafting Letters of Intent, then Britt Haxton covered credit agreements, Sandra McGill covered withholding tax provisions, and Jane May wrapped up with settlement agreements.  Following that discussion, Mary Kay Martire passed our continuing discussion of the Illinois Grand Bargain over to Carol Portman, McDermott Alum and President of the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois, who shared with us some insights into the Illinois budget stalemate. The event concluded with Sandra McGill offering her insights into tax reform, as well as Kristen Hazel’s thoughts on preparing for new rules effective in 2018. The roundtable event aided great networking and conversations, and saw an impressive turnout with female tax leaders from many of McDermott’s client companies.

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Not One but TWO Tax Events Coming Up this Week!

Inside SALT: Significant State Tax Developments and Opportunities

June 8, 2017 – New York, NY

Lawyers in McDermott Will & Emery’s State and Local Tax Group present an informative half-day program. A wide range of topics will be discussed, including:

  • New York developments, including false claims and budget provisions
  • Nexus updates and developments in digital taxation
  • New developments in apportionment, transfer pricing developments and unclaimed property

You can still register! Click here to view more details and register for the event.

Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable

June 8, 2017 – Chicago, IL

McDermott Will & Emery’s Tax in the City® is a discussion and networking group for women in tax that facilitates in-person connections and roundtable study group events around the country.

At this year’s second edition of Tax in the City®, we will host a CLE/CPE discussion focusing on current developments in professional responsibility and ethics, including a presentation focused on ethical issues arising out of our increasing access to connectivity (such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets). This will be followed by a substantive lunch program featuring the following topics:

  • Best Practices for Drafting Tax Provisions in Commercial and Other Contracts
  • Getting Ready for 2018 – Taking Steps to Prepare for Rules that Become Effective 01/01/2018
  • Tax Reform – What Can / Should You Be Doing Now?

To find our more information about Tax in the City® and get involved in future events, please email khazel@mwe.com, jmay@mwe.com or smcgill@mwe.com.




Finishing SALT: InsideSALT’s Monthly Recap

Wrapping Up May – and Looking Forward to June

Our May 2017 blog posts are available on our Inside SALT blog, or read each article by clicking on the titles below. To receive the latest on state and local tax news and commentary directly in your inbox as they are posted, fill out the form on the right to subscribe to our email list.

May 16, 2017: Illinois Department of Revenue Affirms Cloud-Based Services Not Taxable

In two recent General Information Letters (GILs), the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) reaffirmed that computer software provided through a cloud-based delivery system is not subject to tax in Illinois. The Department announced that while it continues to review cloud-based arrangements and may determine they are taxable at some point, any decision to tax cloud-based services will be applied prospectively only.

May 24, 2017: Illinois Bills to Watch

Just days away from the May 31 close of its regular legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly has yet to enact the comprehensive series of tax and budget reforms that were first proposed by the Illinois Senate leadership late last year. On May 23, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill (SB) 9, the tax proposal we described in a previous post, without any Republican support, but it seems likely that Illinois’ Republican Governor will veto the legislation.

Looking forward to June:

June 8, 2017: Chicago – Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable

McDermott Will & Emery’s Tax in the City® network will host a CLE/CPE discussion focusing on current developments in professional responsibility and ethics, including a discussion focused on ethical issues arising out of our increasing access to connectivity.

June 8, 2017: New York – Inside SALT: Significant State Developments and Opportunities

McDermott Will & Emery’s New York State and Local Tax group presents a half-day program that will discuss a wide range of topics, including New York developments such as false claims and budget provisions, Nexus updates and developments in digital taxation, and new developments in apportionment, transfer pricing and unclaimed property.




Reporting Audit Changes – New York City Amends Provision on Apportionment

On April 13, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law two bills related to the 2015-2016 budget (S2009-B/A3009-B and S4610-A/A6721-A) (Budget Bill), containing several significant “technical corrections” to the New York State corporate income tax reform enacted in 2014, along with sales tax provisions and amendments to reform New York City’s (the City’s) General Corporation tax.  For additional information regarding these changes see our Special Report.

One of the less-publicized changes to the New York City Administrative Code involves an amendment to the provision that prohibits changes to the City allocation percentage during the additional period of limitation that is initiated by the reporting of federal or New York State corporate income tax or certain sales and use tax changes to the City where a taxpayer is not conceding the reported changes for New York City purposes.  N.Y. Admin. Code § 11-674(3)(g).  Under the former rule, if the general three-year statute of limitations had expired (i.e., the three-year period from the date the City return was filed), neither the taxpayer nor the City could make changes to the taxpayer’s allocation percentage due to the reporting of federal or New York State changes.  (This same prohibition on changes to the allocation percentage applied (a) when the taxpayer had not notified the City as to a federal or New York State change, but in such situation there would be no limitation on the time period during which the City can issue an assessment and (b) when a deficiency was attributable to the application of a net operating loss or capital loss carry back.)

In the past, the Commissioner has argued that the language in section 11-674(3)(g) was only intended to bar the City from making its own audit adjustments to a taxpayer’s allocation percentage and did not bar the City from making changes to a taxpayer’s allocation percentage that track or reflect State changes to such percentage.  A 1991 Department of Finance Hearing Decision agreed with this interpretation.  See Matter of C.I.C. International Corporation, FHD(390)-GC-9/91(0-0-0) (Sept. 13, 1991).  However, in 1999, the New York City Tax Appeals Tribunal held that the limitation imposed by section 11-674(3)(g) barred the City from making any changes to a taxpayer’s allocation percentage during the additional two-year period of limitation following a report of a State change, even if those changes were merely employed to mirror State changes.  Matter of Ethyl Corporation, New York City Tax Appeals Tribunal, TAT(E)93-97(GC) (June 28, 1999).

In this year’s Budget Bill, the limitation provision was amended with respect to taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2015 (the provision was not changed for taxable periods beginning before January 1, 2015).  For taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2015, the City may adjust the allocation percentage within the additional period of limitation when the New York City assessment is based on the reporting of a New York State change.  (The prohibition on changes to the allocation percentage still remains with respect to the reporting of federal [...]

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