Posted tagged ‘sales and use tax’

A Federal-Level Attempt to Codify the “Physical Presence” Nexus Standard From Quill

June 15, 2017

By Adam Koelsch

On June 12, 2017, The Honorable James Sensenbrenner (R. WI 5th District) introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives a bill, designated H.R. 2887, which would codify the nexus standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992).

The bill is set against the backdrop of multiple recent attempts by the states to persuade the Supreme Court to take a case that would revisit and overturn Quill.  Quill held that the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state (or local taxing authority) from imposing upon a retailer an obligation to collect and remit sales tax from its sales to customers within that state if the retailer does not have a “physical presence” in that state.

Various state court decisions have interpreted Quill to limit the physical presence standard to sales taxes only.  With respect to other taxes, those courts adopted a more expansive “economic presence” standard, that is, broadly speaking, a standard by which a court attempts to determine whether a person exploited the state’s market, received protection from the state, and/or derived some benefit from the state, thereby subjecting the person to tax.

H.R. 2887, however, would prohibit a state from taxing, or regulating, a person’s activity in interstate commerce unless the person is “physically present in the State during the period in which the tax or regulation is imposed.”  H.R. 2887 § 2(a).  Essentially, the bill would roll-back the state court economic nexus decisions and require application of Quill to all tax types.

The bill defines “physical presence” as:  (A) maintaining a commercial or legal domicile in the state; (B) owning, holding a leasehold interest in, or maintaining real property such as an office, retail store, warehouse, distribution center, manufacturing operation, or assembly facility in the state; (C) leasing or owning tangible personal property (other than computer software) of more than de minimis value; (D) having one or more employees, agents, or independent contractors present in the State who provide on-site design, installation, or repair services on behalf of the remote seller; (E) having one or more employees, exclusive agents or exclusive independent contractors present in the state who engage in activities that substantially assist the person to establish or maintain a market in the State; or (F) regularly employing in the State three or more employees for any purpose.  H.R. 2887 § 2(b)(1).

Owning real property in a state has been traditionally recognized as providing sufficient nexus to subject a person to tax.  In addition, practitioners familiar with nexus issues will recognize elements taken from Supreme Court case law interpreting the Quill standard, such as the affirmation in subsection (D) that the presence of a single employee (Standard Press Steel Company v. State of Washington, 419 U.S. 560 [1975]) or an independent contractor (Scripto Inc. v. Carson, 362 U.S. 207 [1960]) is sufficient to subject a person to tax.

But parts of the physical presence standard set forth by the bill are more novel.  Subsection (C) of the above definition would likely have significant impact upon the debate regarding the taxability of computer software, which some states have considered tangible personal property, even when transmitted entirely over the internet.  Indeed, the manner by which courts interpret the term “tangible personal property” in subsection (C) will bear upon the question of whether states will be permitted to tax items such as streaming videos and music, when the taxpayer has no other presence in the state.  Moreover, Courts might interpret subsection (F) to expand the ability of states to claim that an out-of-state business entity has established nexus in the state by allowing any three of its employees to work from their homes in that state, although the allowance was made solely for the employees’ convenience, and although the business otherwise does not have any operations in the state.

The bill also sets forth a definition of “de minimis physical presence,” which includes: (a) entering into an agreement under which a person, for a commission or other consideration, directly or indirectly refers potential purchasers to a person outside the State, whether by an Internet-based link or platform, Internet Web site or otherwise; (b) any presence in a State for less than 15 days in a taxable year (or a greater number of days if provided by State law); (c) product placement, setup, or other services offered in connection with delivery of products by an interstate or in-State carrier or other service provider; (d) internet advertising services provided by in-State residents which are not exclusively directed towards, or do not solicit exclusively, in-State customers; (e) ownership by a person outside of the State of an interest in a limited liability company or similar entity organized or with a physical presence in the State; (f) the furnishing of information to customers or affiliate in such State, or the coverage of events or other gathering of information in such State by such person, or his representative, which information is used or disseminated from a point outside the State; or (g) business activities directed relating to such person’s potential or actual purchase of goods or services within the State if the final decision to purchase is made outside the State.  H.R. 2887 § 2(b)(2).

Finally, the bill also provides that “[a] State may not impose or assess a sales, use, or similar tax on a person or impose an obligation to collect or report any information with respect thereto, unless such person is either a purchaser or a seller having a physical presence in the State.”  H.R. 2887 § 2(c).

That provision that would eliminate remote seller sales and use tax reporting requirements recently enacted by a number of states, most notably, in Colorado.  See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112 (3.5).

Furthermore — because that provision provides that a sales and use tax may not be imposed upon anyone who is not a “seller,” and because the term “seller” specifically excludes “marketplace providers” and “referrers,” as defined elsewhere in the bill (H.R. 2887 § 4[a][1], [5], [7][A], [B]) — that provision would prohibit state measures such as Minnesota H.F. 1, which was passed on May 30, 2017, that impose sales tax and use tax collection requirements upon marketplace providers, e.g., eBay and Amazon.

Interestingly, the bill provides that the federal courts will now have jurisdiction to hear civil actions filed to enforce the provisions of the bill.  H.R. 2887 § 3.  Currently, lawsuits involving state taxes are largely absent from the federal system as a result of the Tax Injunction Act, which provides that “district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State.”  28 U.S.C. § 1341.  H.R. 2887, however, allows any taxpayer challenging a state tax based upon nexus may bring suit in federal court.  Obviously, this new “federal option” would change the dynamic of SALT litigation involving nexus questions.

In short, the bill, if passed, would make dramatic changes to State and Local Tax law and litigation landscape.

Proposed Remote Seller Notice and Reporting Requirements in Pennsylvania Post-DMA

March 8, 2017

By Adam Koelsch

Just a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the Tenth Circuit in Direct Mktg. Ass’n v. Brohl — which upheld Colorado’s sales tax notice and reporting requirements for out-of-state retailers — a Pennsylvania lawmaker has reintroduced a bill requiring online retailers to notify Pennsylvania purchasers when sales and use tax is due on their purchases.

In 2010, the Colorado legislature enacted a statute which requires a remote retailer that sells products to Colorado customers, but does not collect Colorado sales tax, to notify those customers that sales or use tax is due on certain purchases made from the retailer and that Colorado requires those customers to file sales or use tax returns.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112 (3.5)(c)(I).  Failure to provide that notice subjects the retailer to a penalty of five dollars ($5.00) for each such failure, unless the retailer shows reasonable cause for such failure.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112 (3.5)(c)(II).

In addition, the statute requires that such retailers must send a notification to each Colorado customer by January 31 of each year showing, among other information, the total amount paid by the customer for Colorado purchases made from the retailer in the previous calendar year.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112 (3.5)(d)(I)(A).  Failure to send that notification subjects the retailer to a penalty of ten dollars ($10.00) for each such failure, unless the retailer shows reasonable cause for such failure.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112 (3.5)(d)(III)(A).

The statute further requires that such retailers file an annual statement for each Colorado customer with the Department of Revenue showing the total amount paid for Colorado purchases by such customers during the preceding calendar year, to be filed on or before March 1 of each year.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112 (3.5)(d)(II)(A).  Failure to file that annual statement subjects the retailer to a penalty of ten dollars ($10.00) for each purchaser that should have been included in the statement, unless, again, the retailer shows reasonable cause for such failure.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-21-112 (3.5)(d)(III)(B).

The Data & Marketing Association (“DMA,” formerly the Direct Marketing Association), challenged the above Colorado notice and reporting requirements in federal court, claiming that those requirements violated the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by imposing burdens on out-of-state retailers that were not imposed upon in-state retailers.  In 2011, a preliminary injunction was issued by the federal district court, which, in 2012, also concluded that the Colorado statute violated the Commerce Clause.  In 2013, the Tenth Circuit dissolved the injunction and reversed the decision of the district court — holding that the district court did not have jurisdiction pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act — only to, in turn, have its decision reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 3, 2015, in Direct Mktg. Ass’n v. Brohl, 135 S. Ct. 1124 (2015).  On remand, the Tenth Circuit again reversed the district court, holding that the Colorado statute did not violate the Commerce Clause.  On December 12, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court denied DMA’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

Meanwhile, after the Tenth Circuit had dissolved the preliminary injunction in 2013, DMA had filed for, and had obtained, another injunction in Colorado state court.

But, on February 23, 2017, DMA and the State of Colorado settled the case, thereby dissolving the state court injunction and finally ending the litigation.  As part of that settlement, the Department of Revenue agreed that the litigation involving DMA over the constitutionality of the statute had constituted reasonable cause for non-compliance with the statute, and that, therefore, the Department would not require compliance with the statute and its accompanying regulations before July 1, 2017, and that it would waive any penalties for failure to comply with the statute and the regulations before that date.

Subsequent to the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to review the Tenth Circuit’s decision, a number of states have introduced bills to create notice and reporting requirements similar to those of Colorado.  In particular, in Pennsylvania, on February 17, 2017, Rep. W. Curits Thomas introduced H.B. 542 — a bill substantially similar to the one which he had introduced in 2015, only to have it die in committee when the legislative session adjourned.

H.B. 542 imposes more modest requirements than the Colorado statute.  For instance, H.B. 542 does not require that annual notifications be sent to purchasers, or require that an annual statement be filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.  Instead, the proposed statute requires that a seller or a remote seller “conspicuously provide” to a Pennsylvania purchaser, on each separate sale of tangible personal property or taxable services via an Internet website operated by that seller or remote seller, the following notice:

Unless you paid Pennsylvania sales tax on this purchase, you may owe a Pennsylvania use tax on this purchase based on the total sales price of the purchase in accordance with the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971. Visit http://www.revenue.state.pa.us for more information.  If you owe a Pennsylvania use tax on this purchase, you must report and remit the tax on your Pennsylvania income tax form.

H.B. 542 § 279(a).  The proposed statute provides no guidance regarding what constitutes a sufficiently “conspicuous” notice.

A failure by the seller to provide such notice will subject the seller to a fine of “not less than” five dollars ($5.00) for each such failure.  H.B. 542 § 279(b).  The proposed statute would be applicable only to transactions occurring more than sixty (60) days after its enactment.

In light of this proposed statute, and those like it introduced in other states, remote sellers should be alert to any newly imposed notice and reporting requirements in each of the states in which they sell their products.

The text of H.B. 542 is available here.

Amazon Sues Texas Comptroller to Produce Audit Records

January 21, 2011

By Paul Masters

In response to the Texas Comptroller’s deficiency assessment of $269 million for uncollected sales and use tax, Amazon retaliated by filing suit in Travis district court for the production of “[i]nformation related to the audit and the assessment.” As of January 19, 2011, the Texas Comptroller had not been served and thus had no comment.

Other Texas retailers have complained to the Texas Comptroller of the unfair advantage given to Internet retailers such as Amazon who have not been collecting Texas sales and use tax.