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Update on Illinois Legislative Session

On May 31, the Illinois General Assembly closed its regular legislative session, without a budget agreement.

Senate Bill 9

As we previously reported, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill 9 (Bill), a tax proposal that is part of the Illinois “Grand Bargain” that we described in a previous post. The version of Senate Bill 9 that passed out of the Senate passed the House Revenue Committee on May 29 on a partisan vote. The House has extended the Bill’s final action deadline to June 30.

The current version of the Bill is similar but not identical to the version that we have previously described. Some of the more significant amendments include the following:

Two New Taxes. The Bill now proposes to create two new taxes. The “Video Service Tax Modernization Act” purports to impose a tax on satellite television and streaming television services at a rate of 5 percent of the gross revenues that a provider earns from its Illinois customers. The Bill also creates the “Entertainment Tax Fairness Act” which seeks to tax viewing “entertainment,” defined as “paid video programming whether transmitted by cable service, direct-to-home satellite service, direct broadcast satellite service, digital audio-visual works service, or video service.” The tax rate is 1 percent of charges paid by the customer. Both taxes exempt satellite or subscription radio services and can be passed-through and collected from customers.

Income Tax. The Bill now proposes to increase income tax rates for individuals, trusts and estates to 4.95 percent (rather than the previously proposed 4.99 percent rate). Also, the tax rate increases, including the increase to 7 percent for corporations (corporate increase unchanged from the Bill’s prior version), continue to be permanent.

Sales Tax Base Expansion. The current version of the Bill removes repair and maintenance services, landscaping services, cable television services (but see “Two New Taxes” described above) and some personal care services (including nails and hair removal) from the Bill’s expansion of the Illinois sales tax base.

It is difficult to predict whether any portion of Senate Bill 9 will be enacted. Since the Illinois General Assembly’s regular sessions have now ended, legislative approval will require a three-fifths majority and, to date, the governor has refused to endorse the legislation.

Senate Bill 1577

We have previously reported on Senate Bill 1577, which proposes to increase the penalty amounts imposed for violation of the Illinois False Claims Act. The bill passed the House on May 30 with the exception for certain low dollar tax claims as previously described.




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. Yesterday, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill (SB) 9, the tax proposal we described in a previous post, without any Republican support. SB 9 now moves to the Democratically-controlled House for consideration. Even if approved by the House, it seems likely that Illinois’ Republican Governor will veto the legislation. (more…)




Tax Highlights of Proposed Illinois “Grand Bargain”

In an effort to resolve Illinois’ 20-month budget impasse, the Illinois Senate leadership (Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Rodogno) have jointly proposed a series of bills to increase revenue, reduce spending, and respond to the Illinois Governor’s concerns regarding pension reforms, workers compensation reform and property tax relief.  A series of twelve bills have been introduced, all of which are interlinked for passage.  The bills are termed the Illinois “Grand Bargain.”  Most of the tax-related changes are found in Senate Bill 9.  The current version of the Senate Bill 9 (Amendment 3) (“Bill”) was submitted on March 3 and includes the following proposed changes: (more…)




Another Effort at False Claims Act Reform: Bills Introduced to Amend Illinois Act to Restrict Tax-Related Claims

Illinois Legislators have recently introduced three bills that would amend the Illinois False Claims Act (“Act”) to restrict the ability to bring tax-related claims. Senate Bill 9, the proposed “grand bargain” to resolve Illinois’ budget stalemate, includes language that would eliminate the ability to use the Act to bring tax claims.  In addition, Representative Frank Wheeler and Senator Pam Althoff have introduced House Bill 1814 and Senate Bill 1250, respectively, which are identical pieces of legislation that would significantly restrict a private citizen’s right to bring tax-related claims. Senate Bill 9, if adopted in its current form, would eliminate the ability to bring a tax-related claim under the Act.  Currently, the Act only excludes the right to bring income tax-related claims. 740 ILCS 175/3(c).  This would effectively conform the Act to the federal False Claims Act, which does not extend to tax claims.  Rather, tax-related claims are brought before the Internal Revenue Service’s Whistleblower Office as whistleblower claims. House Bill 1814 and Senate Bill 1250 (“Bills 1814/1250”) preserve the right to bring tax claims under the Act, and they maintain the prohibition against income tax claims.  However, in a significant improvement over current practice, the Bills would amend the Act to restrict the ability of a whistleblower or its counsel to control or profit from the filing of tax claims.  In addition, they enhance the role played by the Department of Revenue (“Department”) in determining whether a whistleblower’s tax claim should be pursued.  Effectively, the Bills make the filing of state tax-related whistleblower claims more like the procedure for bringing a federal tax violation before the IRS. Currently, the Act authorizes private citizens, termed “relators,” to initiate litigation to force payment of tax allegedly owed to the State.  740 ILCS 175/4(b).  Hundreds of such claims have been filed in Illinois by whistleblowers claiming a failure to collect and remit sales tax on internet sales.  Relators file a complaint under seal with the circuit court and serve the complaint on the State.  Id. 175/4(b)(2).  The Illinois Attorney General’s office then has the opportunity to review the allegations and decide whether to intervene in the litigation.  Id. 175/4(b)(2), (3).  The Department is not named as a Defendant and there is no requirement to involve the Department in the litigation.  If the Attorney General declines to proceed with the litigation, the relator may proceed with the lawsuit on its own and, if successful, is entitled to an award of 25 percent to 30 percent of the proceeds or settlement of the action, plus its attorneys’ fees and costs.  Id. 175/4(d)(2).  Even if the State intervenes and proceeds with the litigation, eliminating the relator’s day-to-day involvement, the relator is entitled to an award of 15 percent to 25 percent of the proceeds of settlement, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.  Id. 175/4(d)(1). In contrast, Bills 1814/1250 provide that only the Attorney General (“AG”) and the Department have the right to initiate claims under [...]

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Illinois Law Firm Continues to Clog Court System with Tax-Related False Claims Act Allegations—but Proposed Legislation May Offer Relief

As many readers of this blog know, over the past 12 years the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois has been deluged with lawsuits filed by a Chicago law firm against internet retailers as a “whistleblower” under the Illinois False Claims Act.  The factual support for the lawsuits comes solely from internet-based investigations, including purchases made on retailer websites.  The lawsuits typically allege that the retailers have knowingly failed to collect and remit sales and use tax on some aspect of their internet sales shipped to Illinois.  See 740 ILCS 175/1 et seq.  Substantial damages are claimed, including up to three times the tax allegedly owed to the State, attorneys’ fees, and a penalty assessment for each tax filing that failed to disclose the tax due.

An initial wave of approximately 90 lawsuits was filed in 2003 and 2004 against retailers that did not collect Illinois tax on their internet sales.  In 2011, the whistleblower firm began to file a second round of lawsuits against retailers that collected tax on their internet sales of merchandise, but not on the shipping and handling charges associated with those sales.  To date, more than 200 of these “shipping and handling” tax lawsuits have been filed.  Most recently, the whistleblower firm has filed claims against defendants in the liquor industry, alleging a failure to collect sales and use tax and, in some instances, the failure to remit Illinois’ gallonage tax on sales of alcohol.

The validity of these lawsuits is hotly contested.  Many lawsuits have been dismissed, and at least two shipping and handling tax cases have resulted in trial rulings against the whistleblower firm and in favor of the retailer defendants.  It remains to be seen how the courts will determine the viability of Relator’s most recent claims, which appear on their face to be flawed.

Many other cases, including those that raise only nuisance value damages, have been settled to avoid the cost of litigation.  These settlements appear to have fueled the whistleblower firm’s continued voracious appetite for this type of litigation.

Although the State of Illinois has the right to intervene and lead the prosecution of these actions, for the past several years the Office of the Illinois Attorney General has generally declined to intervene in these actions.  Unfortunately, when this occurs, the Illinois False Claims Act permits a whistleblower claimant to proceed on its own with the litigation.  In almost all cases in which the State has declined to intervene, the whistleblower firm has elected to proceed on its own with its tax-related claims.

The continued activity in this area underscores the need for the Illinois General Assembly to address and pass House Bill 0074 – legislation carefully crafted, through negotiations with the Illinois Attorney General’s office, to modify the procedure for state tax-related False Claims Act litigation in Illinois.  The legislation would vastly improve the current False Claims Act situation by modifying the law as follows:

  1. Requiring whistleblowers with state tax-related claims to first disclose their claims [...]

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