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BREAKING NEWS: No Physical Presence Required for Ohio CAT Imposition

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated slip opinions in the three companion cases challenging Ohio’s Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) economic nexus standard. See Crutchfield Corp. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7760; Newegg, Inc. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7762; and Mason Cos., Inc. v. Testa, Slip Op. No. 2016-Ohio-7768.

In ruling 5-2 in favor of the state, the Ohio Supreme Court first held that physical presence is not a necessary condition for imposing the CAT because the CAT’s $500,000 sales-receipts threshold is adequate quantitative standard that ensures that taxpayer’s nexus with Ohio is substantial under the dormant Commerce Clause. In reaching this conclusion, the court specifically stated that “[o]ur reading of the case law indicates that the physical-presence requirement recognized and preserved by the United States Supreme Court for purposes of use-tax collection does not extend to business-privilege taxes such as the CAT.” (emphasis in original) Note that the court held this was the case regardless of whether the business-privilege tax is measured by income or receipts. In rebuking the taxpayer’s argument that Tyler Pipe affirmatively required some physical presence in the taxing state, the court held that physical presence is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for imposing a business-privilege tax. See our prior blog on the oral argument for a more detailed description of the Tyler Pipe argument.

Second, the Ohio high court viewed the burdens imposed by the CAT on interstate commerce as not clearly excessive in relation to Ohio’s legitimate interest in imposing the CAT evenhandedly on sales receipts of in-state and out-of-state sellers. Citing these two bases, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Board of Tax Appeals’ (BTA) decisions affirming the CAT assessments against the three appellants. The dissenting opinion viewed Quill as the proper standard for the Ohio CAT, and would have remanded the cases to the BTA for a determination of whether the taxpayer had physical presence.

Practice Note:

These companion cases were viewed by many as a potential vehicle to seek review of the continued viability of the Quill physical presence requirement (as Justice Kennedy called for in his widely-cited DMA concurrence last year). However, the narrow scope of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision makes it difficult for this case to become the vehicle for the US Supreme Court to review Quill’s continuing viability for sales and use tax nexus.




BREAKING NEWS: House Passes Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act

Moments ago, the United States House of Representatives (House) passed the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2315) Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2315) by voice vote. The Act will now be delivered to the United States Senate (Senate) for introduction and referral to committee for consideration. While the Senate Committee on Finance has not advanced a companion bill (S. 386) introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in February 2015, the bill currently touts 45 co-sponsors.

Background

The Mobile Workforce Act that passed today was introduced in May 2015 by Representatives Mike Bishop (R-MI) and Hank Johnson (D-GA). As highlighted in our prior coverage, the bill advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee in June 2015 by a vote 23-4. This legislation has been introduced in the House by each Congress since it was first introduced in 2006 by the 109th. While the legislation has seen some degree of success in the House, it has yet to advance beyond the Senate Committee on Finance. Notably, in May 2012, a prior version of the Act was passed in the House, but the Senate Committee on Finance did not take it up for consideration.

The Mobile Workforce Act

While the Mobile Workforce Act has been tweaked over the years, its underlying objective has largely remained the same—to providing a workable, national framework for the administration of, and compliance with, the states’ incongruent withholding and nonresident income tax payment laws. The version of the Act passed by the House today establishes a thirty-day safe harbor for traveling employees from nonresident state personal income taxes, and greatly reduces and simplifies the withholding and reporting burdens and related costs to their employers. Specifically, an employee working in a nonresident state for thirty or fewer days would not pay personal income tax to the nonresident state. Instead, the employee would remain fully taxable in its resident state on these earnings.

Under the Act, employers would not be required to withhold taxes in the nonresident state for employees whose travel falls at or below the thirty-day threshold in the state. In making this determination, the Act allows employers to rely on an employee’s annual determination of the time they will spend working in a state, absent fraud or collusion by the employee. The definition of “employee” has the same meaning given to it by the state in which the employment duties are performed, subject to only a few exceptions (including professional athletes, professional entertainers, and public figures who are persons of prominence who perform services for wages or other remuneration on a per-event basis).

As passed today, the “Act shall take effect on January 1 of the [second] year that begins after the date of the enactment of this Act” and retroactive application is expressly prohibited. Practically speaking, this means that the absolute earliest the Act could take effect is January 1, 2018 (assuming the Senate [...]

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BREAKING NEWS: Discussion Draft of Online Sales Simplification Act of 2016 Released

Today, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Goodlatte from Virginia, released the long-anticipated discussion draft of the Online Sales Simplification Act of 2016. Highlights of the bill include:

  • The bill implements the Chairman’s much-discussed ‘hybrid-origin’ approach.
  • The bill removes the Quill physical presence requirements for sales tax collection obligations under certain circumstances.
  • States may impose sales tax on remote sales IF the state is the origin state and it participates in a statutory clearinghouse AND the tax uses the origin state base and the destination state rate for participating states (the origin state rate is used if the destination state does not participate in the clearinghouse).
  • A remote seller will only have to remit the tax to its origin state for all remote sales.
  • A destination state may only have one statewide rate for remote sales.
  • Only the origin state may audit a seller for remote sales.
  • States that do not participate in the clearinghouse have significant restrictions on the ability to extract the tax from the remote seller.

Below is a more in-depth discussion of the intricacies of the bill.

(more…)




No Surprises in Ohio CAT Nexus Oral Argument

Oral argument before the Ohio Supreme Court took place on May 3 in the three cases challenging Ohio’s Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) nexus standard.  Crutchfield, Inc. v. Testa, Case No. 2015-0386; Mason Cos. Inc. v. Testa, Case No. 2015-0794; Newegg, Inc. v. Testa, Case No. 2015-0483.  Ohio imposes its CAT on a business that has more than $500,000 in annual gross receipts in the state, even if the business has no physical presence in the state.  These three taxpayers have challenged this standard as violating the Commerce Clause substantial nexus test.

The oral argument in the cases proceeded as expected.  The majority of the time for both parties was taken up by questions from the bench.  Several judges quizzed the taxpayers’ counsel about the assertion that no business was conducted in Ohio.  The judges focused on activities such as products being received by customers in Ohio and software being placed on customers’ computers in Ohio to facilitate ordering or to track customer activity in Ohio.  The taxpayers’ counsel vigorously disagreed with this construction of the facts – noting that whatever happened in Ohio, all of the taxpayers’ actions occurred elsewhere.  He stated that the activities called out by the judges were no different than receiving and reviewing a catalog in the state.

The taxpayers’ counsel repeatedly cited to Tyler Pipe as the controlling law in this case – noting that before a state could impose a tax on a business, that business had to do something in the taxing state (or have something done on its behalf) that helped it establish and maintain a market in the state.  According to the taxpayers’ counsel, it was not enough that a market exists in the taxing state; the taxpayer had to be doing something in the taxing state.  He asserted that the taxpayer conducted no business activities in the state and thus Tyler Pipe prevented the state from imposing the CAT on them.  This became the taxpayers’ mantra throughout the argument. (more…)




Viral Marketers Beware – In Alabama, Sales Tax Nexus Created for Out-of-State Bookseller Even Though In-State Teachers Not Acting on Behalf of Seller

After a quarter of a century, the school book nexus cases continue to proliferate, delight and mystify.  The latest installment in the saga is from Alabama.  Scholastic Book Clubs, Inc. 2931 v. State Of Alabama Department Of Revenue, Ala. Tax Tribunal, Dkt. No. S. 14-374 (March 25, 2016).  Like the other cases, the question addressed is whether a vendor with no property or employees in the state nevertheless has nexus for sales tax collection purposes because of the activities of unrelated, and uncompensated, teachers in the state.  Like all of the other cases, these teachers received unsolicited catalogs from the vendor and could either discard the materials or distribute them to their students.  Like all of the other cases, if a teacher elected to distribute the materials, the teacher collected completed order forms and payments from the students and mailed the order and payments to the vendor.   Like all of the other cases, the teacher distributed the order once received to the individual students that placed orders.  Also, like all of the other cases the vendor provided bonus points to teachers based on the dollar amount ordered.  The vendor intended the bonus points be used to purchase additional classroom materials – either from the vendor directly or through gift cards to another retailer.

In reaching its decision, the Alabama Tax Tribunal (the Court) restricted its analysis to the historical Quill physical presence standard.  While noting that on the same facts courts in other states have been severely split on the issue of whether physical presence existed for such a vendor, the Court determined that the opinions finding physical presence were more persuasive.  The Court quoted at length from Scholastic Book Clubs, Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue Servs., 38 A.3d 1183 (Conn. 2012).

As with most of the other bookseller cases in which a court found substantial nexus existed, the Alabama Tax Tribunal focused on the Scripto language negating the importance of labels such as “agent,” “independent contractor,” and “representative.”  This is a red-herring, as the correct analysis should be that regardless of the label, on whose behalf were the teachers acting.  Evidence was introduced that the teachers were acting on behalf of their students, not the vendor.  The Court, however, assumed this bedrock issue away by finding that regardless of on whose behalf the teachers were acting, because the teachers’ activities were substantially associated with Scholastic’s ability to establish and maintain a market in the state, this result was sufficient to establish physical presence for the vendor.  According to the Court, it did not matter that the teachers did not receive any type of compensation from the vendor and did not intend to benefit the vendor.  The only thing that mattered to the nexus analysis was that at the end of the day, the teachers were important to Scholastic’s maintenance of a market in the state.

But that cannot be the correct analysis.  Otherwise, any advertising campaign that relied on word-of-mouth (and similarly any viral marketing campaign) would establish nexus [...]

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