Quill Corp. v. North Dakota

Top June Hits You May Have Missed

BREAKING NEWS: US Supreme Court Overrules Quill

Illinois Budget Bill Makes Few Tax Changes except the Adoption of an Economic Nexus Standard

Circuit Court of Cook County Upholds City of Chicago’s Imposition of Amusement Tax on Internet-Based Streaming Services

Looking Forward to July

July 16, 2018: Alysse McLoughlin is presenting “Federal Tax Changes & Implications to States” at the Southeastern Association of Tax Administrators Conference in Nashville, TN.

July 18, 2018: Alysse McLoughlin is presenting on state and local tax considerations for the Tax Executives Webinar “Practical Tax Reform Implementation – What Corporate Tax Professionals Need to Know Now”.

July 23, 2018: Alysse McLoughlin is speaking on a state panel about the “State Reactions to Tax Reform” for the Tax Reform portion of the New York University Summer Institute in Taxation in New York, NY. 

July 28, 2018:  Stephen Kranz is speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) SALT 2018 Legislative Summit in Los Angeles, CA, regarding state tax reform following on federal reform and next steps on the remote sales tax. He will present an overview of the South Dakota v. Wayfair Supreme Court oral arguments and decision.

Moments ago, the US Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., et al., No. 17-494. The 5-4 opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and concluded that the physical presence requirement established by the Court in its 1967 National Bellas Hess decision and reaffirmed in 1992 in Quill is “unsound and incorrect” and that “stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power.” This opinion will have an immediate and significant impact on sales and use tax collection obligations across the country and is something every company and state must immediately and carefully evaluate within the context of existing state and local collection authority.

Summary of Opinions

The majority opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and was joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito and Gorsuch. In reaching the conclusion that the physical presence rule is an incorrect interpretation of the dormant Commerce Clause, the opinion states that the Quill physical presence rule: (1) is flawed on its own terms because it is not a necessary interpretation of the Complete Auto nexus requirement, creates market distortions and imposes an arbitrary and formalistic standard as opposed to the case-by-case analysis favored by Commerce Clause precedents; (2) is artificial in its entirety and not just at its edges; and (3) is an extraordinary imposition by the Judiciary. The majority went on to conclude that stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power, noting that “[i]t is inconsistent with this Court’s proper role to ask Congress to address a false constitutional premise of this Court’s own creation.” The majority noted that the South Dakota law “affords small merchants a reasonable degree of protection” and “other aspects of the Court’s [dormant] Commerce Clause doctrine can protect against any undue burden on interstate commerce.” The majority opinion specifically notes that “the potential for such issues to arise in some later case cannot justify an artificial, anachronistic rule that deprives States of vast revenues from major businesses.” Finally, the majority decision provides that in the absence of Quill and Bellas Hess, the first prong of Complete Auto simply asks whether the tax applies to an activity with substantial nexus with the taxing State and that here, “the nexus is clearly sufficient.” Specifically, the South Dakota law only applies to sellers that deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the State or engage in 200 or more separate transactions, which “could not have occurred unless the seller availed itself of the substantial privilege of carrying on business in South Dakota.” With respect to other principles in the Court’s dormant Commerce Clause doctrine that may invalid the South Dakota law, the majority held that “the Court need not resolve them here.” However, the majority opinion does note that South Dakota appears to have features built into its law that are “designed to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens upon interstate commerce” including: (1) a safe harbor for small sellers; (2) provisions that prevent a retroactive collection obligation; and (3) the fact that South Dakota is a member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.

Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch both wrote a standalone concurring opinions. Justice Thomas acknowledged that he should have voted with Justice White in Quill to overturn Bellas Hess and Justice Gorsuch seemed to caution his concurrence should not be read as an agreement with all aspects of the dormant Commerce Clause (perhaps looking forward to future issues that may be before the Court).

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. The dissent argues that any alteration to the physical presence rule should be undertaken by Congress and that departing from the doctrine of stare decisis is an exceptional action demanding special justification, which is even further heightened in the dormant Commerce Clause context. The dissenting opinion went on to note that the majority “breezily disregards the costs that its decision will impose on retailers” and that the “burden will fall disproportionately on small businesses” which they note is something Congress could fix as part of a legislative solution. The Chief Justice Robert’s dissent concludes that “I fear the Court today is compounding its past error by trying to fix it in a totally different era.”

Practice Note and Next Steps

Today’s opinion raises no shortage of questions that will be discussed and further evaluated over the coming weeks and months. One thing that is clear from the decision is that the Court is still concerned about potential undue burdens that state tax systems may impose on businesses, particularly small businesses. The Court appears to have concluded that South Dakota’s imposition does not run afoul of those concerns, however, the door is open as to whether other states’ tax systems would satisfy the new requirements. The Court repeatedly emphasized that South Dakota’s participation in the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement was an important factor in upholding the imposition of tax. The Court also cited South Dakota’s lack of retroactivity and a threshold as important factors as well.

States will obviously rejoice at the decision. Expect states to seek legislative and regulatory expansion of their “doing business” laws to align with the South Dakota v. Wayfair opinion, with significant activity in the next round of state legislative sessions.

The Court reiterated that Congress may act to address any of the concerns with the new standard. In fact, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion acknowledges that “Congress may legislate to address these problems if it deems it necessary and fit to do so.” Although little progress has been made in Congress on this issue for some time, the landscape is now changed and that may result in pushing Congress to act.

On June 4, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law the state’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget implementation bill, Public Act 100-0587 (the Act). The Act makes a significant change to the Illinois sales/use tax nexus standard by adopting an “economic nexus” standard for a sales/use tax collection obligation. The economic nexus language was added to the budget bill one day before it was passed by the General Assembly. The standard is contrary to the physical presence nexus standard established by the United States Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 US 298 (1992), the validity of which is currently pending before the Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Docket 17-494. The Court is expected to rule on Wayfair by the end of this month (see here for our prior coverage of the Wayfair case).

The Act amends Section 2 of the Use Tax Act to impose a tax collection and remission obligation on an out-of-state retailer making sales of tangible personal property to Illinois customers if the retailer’s gross receipts from sales to Illinois customers are at least $100,000 or the retailer has at least 200 separate sales transactions with Illinois customers. Similarly, it would amend Section 2 of the Service Use Tax Act with respect to out-of-state sellers making sales of services to Illinois customers. These changes mirror the economic nexus standard adopted by South Dakota. See SD Codified Laws § 10-64-2.

In the wake of Wayfair, other states have adopted similar nexus provisions. See, e.g., Conn. SB 417, Ga. HB 61, Haw. HB 2514, Iowa SF 2417, provisions enacted in 2018. By enacting the statute without an escape clause, Illinois, like other states, has put a law on the books that directly conflicts with Quill, and which will be ripe for constitutional challenge if the US Supreme Court affirms the South Dakota Supreme Court’s ruling that the South Dakota statute is unconstitutional.

The Act also amended Section 223 of the Illinois Income Tax Act to extend the tax credit for for-profit hospitals (equal to the lesser of property taxes paid or the cost of charity care provided) to tax years ending on or before December 31, 2022.

The Act made no changes in response to the federal tax reform bill. In particular the General Assembly did not enact Senate Bill 3152 (proposing to add-back the new federal deduction for foreign-derived intangible income (FDII); see here for our prior coverage). The General Assembly also did not enact either of the pending bills (HB 4237 and 4563) proposing to work around the federal $10,000 limitation on the deductibility of state and local taxes by establishing funds/foundations to which taxpayers could make contributions in exchange for tax credits.

On May 24, 2018, the Circuit Court of Cook County granted the City of Chicago’s Motion for Summary Judgment in the case captioned Labell v. City of Chicago, No. 15 CH 13399 (Ruling), affirming the City’s imposition of its amusement tax on internet-based streaming services.

City’s Amusement Tax and Amusement Tax Ruling #5

The City imposes a 9 percent tax on “admission fees or other charges paid for the privilege to enter, to witness, to view or to participate in such amusement. …” Mun. Code of Chi., tit. 4, ch. 4-156 (Code), § 4-156-020(A); see also id. § 4-156-010 (defining “amusement” in part as a performance or show for entertainment purposes, an entertainment or recreational activity offered for public participation and paid television programming). On June 9, 2015, the City Department of Finance (Department) issued Amusement Tax Ruling #5, taking the position that the amusement tax is imposed “not only [on] charges paid for the privilege to witness, view or participate in amusements in person but also [on] charges paid for the privilege to witness, view or participate in amusements that are delivered electronically [emphasis in original].” Amusement Tax Ruling #5, ¶ 8.

The Ruling sought to impose an amusement tax on subscription fees or per-event fees for the privilege of: (1) watching electronically delivered television, shows, movies or videos; (2) listening to electronically delivered music; and (3) participating in online games, provided the streamed content (i.e., movies, music, etc.) was delivered to a customer in the City. See id. ¶¶ 8, 10. The Ruling stated that “this means that the amusement tax will apply to customers whose residential street address or primary business street address is in Chicago, as reflected by their credit card billing address, zip code or other reliable information.” Id. ¶ 13. A copy of the City’s Amusement Tax Ruling #5 is linked here. Continue Reading Circuit Court of Cook County Upholds City of Chicago’s Imposition of Amusement Tax on Internet-Based Streaming Services

Yesterday, the South Dakota Supreme Court released its much-anticipated opinion in the Wayfair litigation, affirming a March 2017 trial court decision granting the remote retailer’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that the economic nexus law enacted in 2016 (SB 106) is unconstitutional and directly violates the US Supreme Court’s dormant Commerce Clause precedent in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota.

The South Dakota litigation remains at the front of the pack of a host of state court cases challenging similar state economic nexus laws across the United States. The expedited review (and decision) by the South Dakota Supreme Court here is significant, and puts the litigation well within the range of cases that would be decided by the end of the October 2017 Term (i.e., by July 2018), assuming cert is granted—which is by no means a guarantee. The state has 90 days to file a cert petition with the US Supreme Court, which can be extended upon request. Stay tuned, as this litigation is far from over and the sitting US Supreme Court will be tasked with deciding whether they will honor Justice Kennedy’s request to bring a case before the Court in DMA v. Brohl.

The full South Dakota Supreme Court opinion is available here.

Can a seller have nexus with a state – so as to be obligated to collect and remit that state’s sales and use taxes – only in connection with certain sales that seller makes into that state?  In this article, the authors explore the concept that only certain transactions may be subject to that obligation, depending on the extent of the seller’s connection with that state.

Read the full article.

Originally published in State Tax Notes, July 3, 2017.

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. Continue Reading Illinois Bills to Watch

This morning, the US Supreme Court announced that it denied certiorari in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, which was on appeal from the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The denied petitions were filed this fall by both the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Colorado, with the Colorado cross-petition explicitly asking the Court to broadly reconsider Quill. In light of this, many viewed this case a potential vehicle to judicially overturn the Quill physical presence standard.

Practice Note:  Going forward, the Tenth Circuit decision upholding the constitutionality of Colorado’s notice and reporting law stands, and is binding in the Tenth Circuit (which includes Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma as well). While this development puts an end to this particular kill-Quill movement, there are a number of other challenges in the pipeline that continue to move forward.

In particular, the Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that the Ohio Commercial Activity Tax, a gross-receipts tax, is not subject to the Quill physical presence standard. A cert petition is expected in this case, and could provide another opportunity for the US Supreme Court to speak on the remote sales tax issue. In addition, litigation is pending in South Dakota and Alabama over economic nexus laws implemented earlier this year. A motion hearing took place before the US District Court for the District of South Dakota last week on whether the Wayfair case should be remanded back to state court. If so, the litigation would be subject to the expedited appeal procedures implemented by SB 106 (2016), and would be fast tracked for US Supreme Court review. Tennessee also recently adopted a regulation implementing an economic nexus standard for sales and use tax purposes that directly conflicts with Quill that is expected to be implemented (and challenged) in 2017. While Governor Bill Haslam has praised the effort, state legislators have been outspoken against the attempt to circumvent the legislature and impose a new tax. Notably, the Joint Committee on Government Operations still needs to approve the regulation for it to take effect, with the economic nexus regulation included in the rule packet scheduled for review by the committee this Thursday, December 15, 2016.

All this action comes at a time when states are gearing up to begin their 2017 legislative sessions, with many rumored to be preparing South Dakota-style economic nexus legislation for introduction. While DMA is dead as an option, the movement to overturn Quill continues and the next few months are expected to be extremely active in this area. Stay tuned to Inside SALT for the most up-to-date developments.

Earlier today, the Tennessee Department of Revenue (DOR) submitted a new sales and use tax regulation for publication titled “Out-of-State Dealers” (Rule 1320-06-01-.129) that would administratively create an economic nexus threshold. With the submission, Tennessee becomes the most recent addition to the growing list of states seeking to directly attack the Quill physical presence standard.  As detailed in our prior blog, both Alabama and South Dakota are already litigating whether their economic nexus standards are sufficient to satisfy the dormant commerce clause substantial nexus requirement.  Additionally, at least 11 different bills in eight different states have been introduced in state legislatures so far in 2016.  With states continuing to attack Quill from all angles, remote sellers are scrambling to keep up with the increasingly volatile nexus landscape. Continue Reading Breaking News: Tennessee Submits Proposed Economic Nexus Regulation for Publication

Ever since Alabama’s new economic nexus regulation went into effect, litigation over its constitutionality has been expected given that Alabama Commissioner Julie Magee and Governor Bentley said as much when announcing it (Rule 810-6-2-.90.03, effective January 1, 2016).  It appears that they finally got their wish. On June 8, 2016, Newegg Inc. (Newegg) filed a Notice of Appeal in the Alabama Tax Tribunal challenging the Alabama Department of Revenue (DOR) Notice of Final Assessment of Sellers Use Tax (Assessment) that was entered on May 12, 2016. The Assessment is for seller’s use tax, interest and penalties for the months of January and February 2016 (the Assessment Period), which represent the first two months the new regulation was in effect.

The Alabama litigation comes on the heels of the litigation in South Dakota, which also involves Newegg and other retailers. Although the critical issue in both is whether economic nexus is constitutional, given that the Alabama imposition is through a regulation and not a statute, the arguments in each state’s litigation may not be parallel.

DOR Explanation of the Assessment

The DOR asserts that under the new regulation Newegg has a “substantial economic presence” in Alabama.  According to Newegg, the DOR “has offered no basis for its determination” that the regulation’s requirements were satisfied during the Assessment Period. Specifically, Newegg notes that the DOR “conclusion appears to be based solely upon the fact that Newegg had ‘significant sales into Alabama,’ i.e., more than $250,000 of retail sales to Alabama customers.”

Newegg’s Grounds for Appeal

Newegg requests that the Tax Tribunal cancel the Assessment, citing the following grounds as the primary basis:

  1. The application of the new regulation to Newegg (and the Assessment) are unconstitutional because Newegg did not (and does not) have the necessary physical presence required to satisfy the “substantial nexus” standard for sales and use taxes under the Commerce Clause, as described by the US Supreme Court in Quill.
  2. The new regulation is invalid because retailers must “lack an Alabama physical presence” for it to apply. Therefore, it conflicts with both the Alabama sales and use tax statutes and the US Constitution, each of which requires a physical presence in the state by (or on behalf of) the retailer.
  3. The application of the new regulation to an internet retailer with no physical presence in Alabama is inconsistent with the authorizing seller’s use tax statute. Specifically, none of the provisions of the sales and use tax statutes (or any other provision in the Alabama Code) authorize the DOR to impose seller’s use tax collection obligations on internet retailers with no physical presence in the state.

The State of Nexus in Other States

The Alabama litigation represents the third prominent nexus case that involves Newegg.  Not only is the company involved in South Dakota (see our prior coverage of the South Dakota lawsuits here), but it is also one of the three taxpayers involved in the Ohio Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) litigation (see our prior coverage of the Ohio lawsuits here). All three cases involve the imposition of nexus on a company without physical presence in the taxing state, one with respect to a gross receipts tax (the Ohio CAT), and the others with respect to sales and use taxes.

On May 25, 2016, the fast-tracked lawsuit filed by South Dakota was (at least temporarily) slowed down when defendants filed a Notice of Removal (Notice) in the US District Court for the District of South Dakota. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiff (South Dakota here) has 30 days (i.e., until June 24, 2016) to file a motion to remand based on a defect in the removal procedure. However, a claim based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time. According to the Notice and accompanying documentation, the basis for removal is federal question jurisdiction. Because the defendants notified the state court, the state court is likely deprived of jurisdiction to act unless the federal court remands the case back to state court. If South Dakota proceeds with the litigation in federal court, it will lose the benefits of the expedited state court appeal process enacted by Senate Bill 106. Only time will tell how the case proceeds.

Practice Note

As judicial challenges to the continued viability of Quill move further along (with Alabama now joining South Dakota as a state with potential Quill litigation pending), the impact on the status of federal legislation remains to be seen. Speaking before the Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA) yesterday, Commissioner Magee pointed out that 41 remote sellers have signed up for Alabama’s Simplified Sellers Use Tax Program, which allows them to avoid the application of the new economic nexus regulation. The Commissioner proudly touted revenue raised in excess of $1 million in the first calendar quarter of 2016 alone. Although we only know of the Newegg case at this point, it’s likely that there are many other assessments and suits to come in Alabama.

During yesterday’s FTA panel presentation on the topic (by Commissioner Magee, South Dakota Secretary Andy Gerlach, COST’s Fred Nicely and Steve Kranz) and conversations that followed, tax administrators in a number of states expressed a willingness to accept prospective voluntary disclosure agreements (VDA’s) from remote retailers. See our prior article explaining why taxpayers should say no to standard VDA lookback periods. In states where a risk of retroactive application exists (or where the taxpayer is going to begin filing anyway) it makes sense to explore the possibility of a prospective arrangement and ensure the state does not seek backward-looking compliance with their new law or position. It should be noted that, unlike South Dakota, the Alabama regulation does not contain any provisions regarding retroactivity.  The regulation took effect as of January 1, 2016, and, ostensibly, liability for retailers not collecting and remitting is accumulating. Retailers should review their positions regarding Alabama and determine the potential liability.  Retroactivity was a significant issue in the Quill case and, unlike South Dakota, there is no statute limiting the effect of a judicial decision to a prospective basis. How this will affect the litigation remains to be seen.