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Washington Department of Revenue Announces LendingTree Decision Does Not Prevent Sourcing of Services to Customer’s Customer Location

The Washington State Department of Revenue (the “Department”) recently announced its interpretation of the Washington Court of Appeals’ March 30, 2020, adverse ruling in LendingTree, LLC v. Dep’t of Revenue, no. 80637-8-I (Wash. App. Ct. Mar. 30, 2020). See here for our prior analysis of the LendingTree opinion. In its interpretation, the Department takes the view that the LendingTree opinion “does not represent a new legal framework,” but rather that the court simply followed the applicable business and occupation tax apportionment rules in sourcing service receipts to the customer’s location and rejecting the Department’s methodology sourcing to the customers’ customers’ location.

The Department’s response suggests that it intends to narrowly apply LendingTree‘s holding. The Department admits that the court agreed with LendingTree in designating the service at issue to be LendingTree’s referral services (lenders pay a fee to receive referrals of potential borrowers) and rejected the Department’s characterization of the service as marketing and outreach to potential borrowers. Under this characterization, the Department observes, in accordance with a Washington regulation sourcing services to where the customer’s related business activity occurs, the referral services are sourced to the lender’s location, where lenders evaluate the referrals received by LendingTree.

The response goes on to emphasize, however, that there are circumstances where the Department will continue to source service receipts to a customer’s customers’ location. The Department announced that one such circumstance would be for taxpayers who have revenues from the sale of marketing or advertising services to a customer engaged in the business of selling.

Taxpayers should be forewarned that despite the LendingTree ruling, they may still have to battle Department efforts to source service receipts based on the location of their customers’ customers (particularly if they are engaged in the sale of marketing or advertising services), despite a Washington statute requiring service receipts to be sourced to the customer and federal constitutional principles requiring that an apportionment method reflect a taxpayer’s in-state activity. (See: e.g., Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Jefferson Lines, 514 U.S. 175 (1995); Container Corp. of America v. Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. 159 (1983).) Unfortunately, it appears that “look through” sourcing disputes between taxpayers and the Department will continue.




A Year’s Review of Massachusetts Tax Cases

Allied Domecq Spirits & Wines USA, Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, 85 Mass. App. Ct. 1125 (2014)

In a unique case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a ruling of the Appellate Tax Board (ATB) that two corporations could not be combined for corporation excise tax purposes for 1996 through 2004. The distinctive aspect of this case was that a company was found not to have nexus with Massachusetts even though it rented property in the state and had employees in the state. If the company had been found to have nexus, it could have applied its losses to offset the income of an affiliated Massachusetts taxpayer in a combined report. The Appeals Court pointed to factual findings of the ATB that the transfer of employees located in Massachusetts to the company “had no practical economic effect other than the creation of a tax benefit and that tax avoidance was its motivating factor and only purpose.” The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied the taxpayer further review on August 1, 2014. Although this case is notable because the sham transaction doctrine rarely, if ever, has been applied to find that a company did not have nexus, a similar factual scenario likely would not occur today because Massachusetts adopted full unitary combination in 2009.

First Marblehead Corp. v. Comm’r of Revenue, 470 Mass. 497, 23 N.E.3d 892 (2015)

In a case that attracted the attention of, and an amicus brief from, the Multistate Tax Commission, the Supreme Judicial Court addressed how the property factor of a taxpayer subject to the Financial Institution Excise Tax (FIET) should be apportioned. The taxpayer, Gate Holdings, Inc. (Gate), had its commercial domicile in Massachusetts and held interests in a number of Delaware statutory trusts that purchased student loan portfolios. Below, the ATB held that Gate’s loans should be assigned to Massachusetts, resulting in a 100-percent property factor for apportionment purposes. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed and interpreted the Massachusetts sourcing provisions at issue, which are based on a model from the Multistate Tax Commission and incorporate the Solicitation, Investigation, Negotiation, Approval and Administration (SINAA) rules, as sourcing Gate’s loans to Massachusetts where Gates had its commercial domicile. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision may be of interest in Massachusetts and other states because several states have adopted sourcing rules for financial institutions that are based on the Multistate Tax Commission’s model.

Genentech, Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, Mass. App. Tax Bd., Docket No. C282905, C293424, C298502, C298891 (2014)

The ATB held that Genentech, Inc., a biotechnology company, was engaged in substantial manufacturing and thus required to use single sales factor apportionment. Genentech is appealing the ruling.

National Grid Holdings, Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, Mass. App. Tax Bd., Docket No.  C292287; C292288; C292289 (2014); National Grid USA Service v. Comm’r of Revenue, Mass. App. Tax Bd., Docket No. C314926 (2014)

The ATB addressed whether an international utility corporation’s deferred subscription arrangements constituted debt for corporate excise purposes. The ATB held that it did not. In reaching its decision, [...]

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