Council On State Taxation
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Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Descend as DC Considers False Claims Act Expansion Again!

The D.C. Council is once again preparing to consider legislation (B23-0035; the False Claims Amendment Act of 2019) that would authorize tax-based false claims actions, allowing private, profit-motivated parties to bring punitive civil enforcement lawsuits—a practice that is prohibited under current law consistent with the vast majority of other states with similar laws.

The Committee of the Whole is expected to consider the bill at its committee mark-up meeting on Tuesday, January 21, and we understand that it will closely resemble the bill that was introduced early last year, which in turn closely resembles prior iterations of the legislative proposal (e.g., the False Claims Amendment Act of 2013, the False Claims Amendment Act of 2016 and the False Claims Amendment Act of 2017).

Most taxpayers and their advisors understand just how problematic this proposal is. As we have seen in jurisdictions like New York and Illinois, opening the door (even a crack) to tax-related false claims can lead to significant headaches for taxpayers and usurp the authority of the state tax agency by involving the state Attorney General in tax enforcement decisions. One Chicago-based law firm has filed over a thousand qui tam actions under the Illinois statute. Few of these cases involve internal whistleblowers, actual fraud or reckless disregard of clear law. Instead, the cases usually involve inadvertent errors or good-faith interpretations of murky tax law. Many of the defendants accused of improperly administering provisions of Illinois’s sales and use tax law even proactively sought guidance from and were audited by the tax authority.

Summary of the Proposal

The bill would amend the existing false claims act in the District of Columbia (D.C. Code Ann. § 2-381.01 et seq.) to expressly authorize tax-related false claims actions against a person so long as they “reported net income, sales, or revenue totaling $1 million or more in a tax filing to which that claim, record, or statement pertained, and the damages pleaded in the action total $350,000 or more.” Because the current false claims statute includes a bright-line tax claim prohibition (consistent with a majority of jurisdictions with similar laws), this bill would represent a major policy departure in the District. See D.C. Code § 2-381.02(d) (stating that “[t]his section shall not apply to claims, records, or statements made pursuant to those portions of Title 47 that refer or relate to taxation”).

Unlike the typical three to six year statute of limitations for tax audits and enforcement, the statute of limitations for false claims to be alleged is 10 years after the date on which the violation occurs. See D.C. Code § 2-381.05(a). Additionally, treble damages would be authorized against taxpayers for violations, meaning District taxpayers would be liable for three times the amount of any damages sustained by the District (including tax, interest and penalties). See D.C. Code § 2-381.02(a). A private party who files a successful claim may receive between 15–25 percent of any recovery to the District if the District’s AG intervenes in the matter. However, if the [...]

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Texas Comptroller’s Office Holds Roundtable on Proposed Regulation Targeting IT, Pharmaceutical Industries

On August 4, 2016, representatives of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts held a limited-invite roundtable to discuss the proposed amendments to 34 Tex. Admin. Code 3.584, relating to the reduced rate available under the Texas Franchise Tax for retailers and wholesalers. As previously reported, these proposed revisions were published in the Texas Register on May 20, 2016 and have the potential to double the tax rate for a substantial number of businesses – namely those in the information technology and pharmaceutical industries.

Members of the Comptroller’s office present included Karey Barton, Associate Deputy Comptroller for Tax, Theresa Bostick, Manager of Tax Policy, William Hammer, Special Counsel for Tax and Jennifer Burleson, Assistant General Counsel. Several representatives of businesses and trade groups, along with legal and accounting professionals, were also present.

Ms. Bostick opened the meeting by reiterating the language of the statute and the proposed regulation, and clarifying the application of the proposed regulation’s language. To briefly summarize, the proposed rule provides that a retailer is considered to produce the products it sells (and therefore may be disqualified from the lower Franchise Tax rate available for retailers) if it “acquires the product and makes modifications to the product that increase the sales price of the product by more than 10 percent.” See proposed Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(i). A business will also be considered a producer if it “manufactures, develops, or creates tangible personal property that is incorporated into, installed in, or becomes a component part of the product that it sells.” See proposed Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(ii). The proposed Rule offers two examples of businesses that will now be considered “producers” rather than retailers: (1) a business that produces a computer program, such as an application or operating system, that is installed in a device that is manufactured by a third party; and (2) a business that produces the active ingredient in a drug that is manufactured by an unrelated party. These proposals represent substantial changes to both the current version of Rule 3.584 and prior Comptroller interpretations of the retailer/producer distinction, and are not supported by the language of the statute that the Rule purports to interpret.

Ms. Bostick explained that the Comptroller had received several comments on the 10 percent rule (some of which were reiterated at the roundtable, including comments that the 10 percent rule should be interpreted as a safe harbor rather than a ceiling and that it should be applied to both modification and development), and that the Comptroller will consider how to define “modification” in the context of Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(i) (such language was not provided at the roundtable). She then focused on Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(ii) and the examples provided thereunder, explaining that these provisions are meant to convey that if a taxable entity produces (with “development” being equivalent to “production” in this context) tangible personal property that is incorporated into, installed in, or becomes a component part of a product it sells, that business is considered a producer of the product. Because the Comptroller’s representatives view [...]

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Taking a Stand Against Retroactive State Legislation

Changing the past: Serious scientists, talented fantasists, regretful Ashley Madison members and many other segments of humanity have considered, and even longed for, the ability to rewrite history. One group has apparently succeeded – state legislatures that backdate tax law changes.

Such success may be short lived, however, as experts identify significant legal and policy faults with retroactively changing tax obligations.  Two recent articles in State Tax Today explain why retroactive tax laws should not be passed and if they are, should be invalidated by the courts – and invalidated retroactively. In “Retroactive Tax Laws Are Just Wrong” David Brunori (Deputy Publisher, State Tax Today) describes the fairness problem with retroactive tax legislation.  In a second article, the monthly interview column “Raising the Bar,” McDermott’s Steve Kranz and Diann L. Smith, Joe Crosby (MultiState Associates) and Kendall Houghton (Alston & Bird LLP) provide details on recent cases addressing retroactive tax changes.

The Council On State Taxation (COST) is also offering a discussion of this issue at its 46th Annual Meeting/Fall Audit Session in Chicago, Illinois (October 20-23, 2015).   McDermott’s Diann L. Smith, Catie Oryl (COST) and Scott Brandman (Baker & McKenzie) will discuss “Retroactive Legislation: Just a ‘Clarification’?”  If you are interested in receiving a copy of the COST outline following the event, please contact Diann at dlsmith@mwe.com.




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