On April 26, 2023, the Supreme Court of California declined to review the Second District Court of Appeal’s decision in Grosz v. California Dep’t of Tax & Fee Admin. In the underlying case, Stanley Grosz, a business owner based in Fresno, California, filed suit seeking a declaration that the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) has a mandatory duty to collect sales and use tax from an internet retailer for sales that were made by third-party merchants on the retailer’s website, but fulfilled by the retailer. Grosz also sought an injunction requiring the CDTFA to collect the sales and use tax.
The internet retailer’s service allows third-party merchants to outsource their order fulfillment to the retailer. As part of the service, the internet retailer stores the merchants’ products at one of its fulfillment centers. According to Grosz, the provision of these services necessarily defined the internet retailer as a “consignment retailer” responsible for remitting sales tax on transactions facilitated through its website. (18 CCR § 1569.) The CDTFA disagreed and counter-argued that the determination of who constitutes a “retailer” under California sales and use tax law is a decision that is within its sole discretion to make.
The Second District Court of Appeal, in analyzing the statutory definition of “retailer” contained in Section 6015(a) of the Revenue and Taxation Code, concluded that it was “clear” that both the internet retailer and the third-party merchants could be regarded as retailers for purposes of transactions conducted under the service. The Court then agreed that the CDTFA has broad discretion to determine who constitutes a “retailer” under California’s sales and use tax laws.
It is important to note that the facts in this case occurred before the enactment of California’s Marketplace Facilitator Act (MFA). Under current law, marketplace facilitators generally are responsible for collecting, reporting and paying the tax on retail sales made through their marketplace for delivery to California customers. Thus, the current statutory scheme has greater clarity concerning the sales tax collection and reporting requirements for marketplace facilitators and sellers. Nevertheless, this case highlights the exposure some sellers may have for sales made before the MFA went into effect if tax was not properly collected and remitted.