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Delaware Proposes Unclaimed Property Regulations – No April Fools

On Saturday, April 1, 2017, the Delaware Department of Finance (DOF) promulgated two regulations that would repeal all existing unclaimed property regulations and replace them with a single DOF regulation containing a revised Reporting and Examination Manual. The Secretary of State (SOS) also promulgated a regulation that outlines the method of estimation to be used for participants in the Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) Program. These promulgations are in accordance with the General Assembly’s instructions to do so in Senate Bill 13, which was passed in January and enacted by Governor John Carney on February 2, 2017. Any written submission in response to these regulations must be sent to the respective agency by Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 4:30PM EST. (more…)




Settlement Reached in Temple-Inland; Delaware Internally Reviewing Unclaimed Property Audit Practices

The court case challenging Delaware’s unclaimed property audit methodologies has settled following an opinion brutalizing Delaware’s position. This settlement leaves the US District Court for the District of Delaware (District Court) holding as precedent, but the issue of what methods Delaware must jettison remains open.

Last Friday, Temple-Inland and Delaware filed a joint motion to dismiss with prejudice in the District Court after the parties agreed to settle the dispute. While the settlement agreement was not publicly disclosed, we understand that Delaware agreed to withdraw its entire assessment (totaling $2,128,834.13) and pay Temple-Inland’s attorneys’ fees and costs, including expert witness reports. The settlement avoids an affirmation by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that Delaware’s audit practices and estimation techniques collectively “shock the conscience,” but remains a significant holder victory given that the Temple-Inland District Court opinion, which is detailed in our prior blog, can now be cited as binding (and finally resolved) precedent by similarly situated holders under audit by the State. (more…)




Taxpayers Stand to Lose Under Chicago’s Lease Tax VDA Offer

Yesterday, the City of Chicago (City) Department of Finance (Department) published an Information Bulletin that provides additional guidance on the Personal Property Lease Transaction Tax (Lease Tax) and extends a new Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) offer to providers and customers. The updated guidance includes an overview of the Lease Tax, a description of the amendments included in the FY 2016 Revenue Ordinance that passed on October 28, 2015, and answers to 15 FAQs. The details on the Department’s controversial interpretation of the Lease Tax in Ruling #12 and the recent amendments to the Lease Tax have been covered by the authors in prior blog posts, available here and here. The new VDA offer is a significant development that may be enticing to certain providers and customers. However, before providers and customers rush to sign up to pay the Lease Tax for the foreseeable future, they should carefully evaluate whether any Lease Tax obligation is in fact due and whether they qualify under the loose terms outlined in the Bulletin (discussed in detail below). It should be noted at the outset that the guidance (and accompanying VDA offer) do not relate to the City’s amusement tax, which has also been of concern after a ruling was issued this summer interpreting the tax to apply to streamed digital content.

VDA Offer Terms

The most significant component of yesterday’s guidance is the VDA offer beginning on page 6 of the Bulletin. While the VDA may seem enticing, we encourage providers and customers alike to proceed with caution as the practical application of the ambiguous (and discretionary) terms are tainted with uncertainty.

As a threshold to qualifying, the provider or customers must qualify (i.e., be a qualified discloser) for the City standard voluntary disclosure program. Under the standard program, a taxpayer must not be under audit or investigation (i.e., has not received a written notice relating to an audit or investigation for the tax at issue) and must “waive their right to an administrative hearing or claim for refund or credit, and agree not to initiate or join any lawsuits for the payments made under the program.” This is significant because we believe a challenge to the Lease Tax is imminent and those that participate in the VDA program will not benefit if any such challenge is successful.

Even if a taxpayer is considered a qualified discloser under the standard program, to qualify for the more favorable Lease Tax offer providers and customers must file an application by January 1, 2016, and come into compliance with the Lease Tax Ordinance by the same date (or such later date that the Department may agree to). If all of these requirements are met, they will receive the following terms:

  1. As to charges for nonpossessory computer leases that qualified for Exemption 11 under the Department’s interpretation of the exemption before the issuance of Ruling #12, no liability for tax, interest or penalties based on those charges for [...]

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Chicago Mayor’s Tax-Heavy Budget Passes: Lease and Amusement Tax Implications

Last week the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2016 revenue ordinance as part of his tax-laden budget proposal. The revenue ordinance included noteworthy changes to the personal property lease transaction tax (lease tax) and amusement tax, both of which we have covered in-depth since the Department of Finance (Department) issued two rulings over the summer officially extending a nine percent tax to most services provided online. The portions of the revenue ordinance related to the lease tax were drafted in response to the concerns raised by the startup community. As discussed in more detail below, the lease tax amendments provide little relief for the vast majority of businesses dreading the January 1st effective date of the ruling. The amendments to the amusement tax provide no relief whatsoever.

Chicago Lease Tax Amendment

The changes to the Lease Tax Ordinance include: (1) a narrowly defined exemption for small businesses; (2) a reduction of the rate for cloud-based services where the customer accesses its own data; and (3) codification of the applicability of the Illinois mobile telecom sourcing rules. The amendments were touted by the mayor as addressing many of the concerns expressed by small businesses after the Department administratively interpreted the nine percent lease transaction tax to apply to most cloud-based services in June. In response to an outcry from the startup community, the Department subsequently delayed the effective date of the ruling to January 1, 2016. Unfortunately the mayor’s solution falls short of providing any significant relief and will not alleviate the concerns of the vast majority of customers and providers affected by the ruling.

Effective immediately upon publication, the lease transaction amendments approved yesterday will:

  1. Exempt “small new businesses” that are lessors or lessees of non-possessory computer leases from their respective lease transaction tax collection and payment obligations. For this purpose, “small new business” is a business that (1) holds a valid and current business license issued by the city or another jurisdiction; (2) during the most recent full calendar year prior to the annual tax year for which the exemption provided by this subsection is sought had under $25 million in gross receipts or sales, as the term “gross receipts or sales” is defined for federal income tax purposes; and (3) has been in operation for fewer than 60 months. For the purpose of calculating the $25 million limit, gross receipts or sales will be combined if they are received by members of a single unitary business group. This will exclude most subsidiaries from taking advantage of the “small new business” exemption.
  2. Reduce the rate from nine percent to 5.25 percent of the lease or rental price in the case of the non-possessory lease of a computer primarily for the purpose of allowing the customer to use the provider’s computer and software to input, modify or retrieve data or information that is supplied by the customer.
  3. Codify the use of the sourcing rules set forth in the Illinois [...]

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Straight Outta Delaware: JLI Invest S.A. et al. v. Cook et al.

As soon as we start to think that Delaware’s unclaimed property practices and administration couldn’t possibly get any more egregious, another lawsuit like JLI Invest S.A. et al. v. Cook et al., Case No. 11274 surfaces. The facts alleged in the complaint highlight the fundamental issue of just how much “protection” state unclaimed property laws provide to owners. In this case, Delaware apparently protected two scientists out of $12,024,148.25. Yay Delaware. The scientists are not happy (we would be crying on the floor with either (a) a vat of Graeter’s ice cream or (b) a barrel of Sancerre) and have sued Delaware for their lost value.

Facts

Dr. Gilles Gosselin and Dr. Jean Louis Imbach are the two Belgian scientists who headed the research team responsible for creating a Hepatitis B drug. Idenix Pharmaceuticals, Inc. was established to commercially develop this drug. As the creators of the drug, Dr. Gosselin and Dr. Imbach were given an ownership interest amounting to approximately 10 percent of the Idenix shares. These shares were held by JLI Invest S.A. and LIN Invest S.A. (the plaintiffs), two Belgian companies established for this purpose.

Despite the facts that (a) both Idenix and Computershare (their transfer agent) had record of the mailing address of each plaintiff and no mail was ever returned undeliverable—as required by Delaware law at the time for property to be deemed abandoned— and (b) that scientists both continued to perform professional services for Idenix, Computershare reported the Idenix shares to Delaware in November 2008 and delivered all of the shares to Delaware on January 2, 2009.  Three days later, Delaware sold the shares for a total of $1,695,851.75 (approximately $3.03 per share). At the time, Idenix had approximately 50 shareholders, and the market for the shares was illiquid.

After making an inquiry concerning the stock to Computershare three years later in 2012, the plaintiffs learned that their shares had been escheated to Delaware. Upon contacting the Delaware Office of Unclaimed Property to claim their property, the plaintiffs were forced to provide substantial documentation verifying their status as the rightful owner, which they did in October and December 2012. After over a year of “pending” status, the plaintiffs were directed to complete a “Request Form” in May 2013, at which time it was noted that a response could take another 12 weeks.

On June 9, 2014, Merck and Idenix announced that Merck would acquire Idenix via a cash tender offer for $24.50 per share. Because the plaintiffs’ shares had been escheated to (and immediately sold by) Delaware in 2009, they were not able to participate in the tender offer despite their desire to. Had they been able to participate, the plaintiffs would have been entitled to receive a total of $13,720,000 for their shares. Meanwhile, Delaware had still not responded regarding the status of their claim. Notably, it was not until October 2014 (over two years after their initial request) that the Delaware Office of Unclaimed Property confirmed that the plaintiffs Idenix shares were [...]

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