Articles Tagged with “Mutli-state Sales and Use Tax”

Published on:

The United States Constitution expressly forbids ex post facto laws with respect to both the federal and state governments.[i] An ex post facto law is one that retroactively changes the legal status and consequences of a particular action. The easiest way to understand it is in the criminal realm. Today, I ate a yogurt. Two years from now, the government passes a law saying it is a third-degree felony to eat yogurt and makes the law retroactive for a 5-year period. While eating my yogurt today was not against the law, I am still, two years later, guilty of a felony and can be punished accordingly. Fortunately, the government is not too interested in yogurt. Unfortunately, the government is very interested in tax.

In 2014, Michigan passed 2014 PA 282, a retroactive tax law replacing the elective three-factor apportionment formula from the Multistate Tax Compact to which Michigan adhered with a new single-factor apportionment formula. This may have been just another disappointment to Taxpayers, who are regularly disappointed by the creative and nefarious ways in which states try to drum up revenue. But with a retroactive application to 2008, it was just plain devastating.

It is no surprise that the state supreme court upheld the state’s interest in collecting more tax. The case challenging this law was in fact 50 consolidated cases in Gillette Commercial Operations North America & Subsidiaries et al. v. Dep’t of Treasury, No. 325258 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2015). The question now is: will the Supreme Court hear the case? The Department of treasury argues that the Supreme Court can’t. Rather than a retroactive law, the state argues that 2014 PA 282 is simply a clarification of the preexisting law. Therefore, under the state statutory-construction law, the Michigan state court had adequate and independent state law ground to uphold 2014 PA 282 and the Supreme Court of the United States does not have the jurisdiction to overturn it.

Published on:

Earlier in 2017, Premier Netcomm Solutions LLC (“Premier”) lost on reconsideration in New Jersey tax court.  The case dealt with the taxability of software as a service (“SaaS”) dating back to an audit from 2004 through 2005.  After initially beating for state, the court overturned a prior decision on reconsideration, which ultimately upheld New Jersey’s tax assessment.

Premier seems to be a classic IT provider in that it provides services such as network supports, internet access, consulting and design of IT and telephone projects, trouble shooting, remote training, data back-up, and network monitoring for businesses.  In the original decision, the court sided with Premier that its sales were not subject to sales tax.  The court concluded that prior to 2005, sales of services related to prewritten software were not taxable. In so doing the court invalidated New Jerseys tax assessment against Premier.

Unhappy with the decision, New Jersey’s Division of Taxation sought reconsideration, which is very difficult to prevail on.  The Court seemed to grant reconsideration because the original case erred fundamentally on its analysis.  Primarily, the court originally believed the law did not tax such services until its 2005 amendment.  However, the amendment was really based on New Jersey’s membership into the Streamline Sales and Use Tax Agreement (“SSUTA”) in 2005, which required it to adopt a uniform definition.  Therefore, based on a 2004 Bulletin, the court reconsidered the case and ruled that the services were and have been subject to tax since 2004.

Published on:

Over the past several years software as a service (“SaaS”) has been a booming industry.  Pioneers in the cloud computing industry, like Salesforce, have developed web based applications that offer a wide range of services to the user.  Driven by competitors such as Microsoft, Adobe, Sap, ADP, Oracle, IBM, Intuit and Google, the SaaS industry has become a $204 billion industry and grown by more than 16% last year.

Traditionally, from a sales tax perspective, states tax the sale of tangible personal property but not services.  While many states adhere to that mantra, several states have moved towards taxing software despite being intangible in nature.  Still, it can be difficult to determine whether SaaS is more like a software, which may be taxable, or if it feels more like a service provided, which is not taxable in many states.

States have been consistently inconsistent across the country in determining whether to tax SaaS.  States often have similar statutes and reach completely different conclusions in their quest to analyze SaaS.  Further, many situations occur in which a state can treat two seemingly similar SaaS companies differently within their own state.  In an attempt to comply, companies often struggle with charging the appropriate sales tax in the correct state and/or their state income tax obligations, with respect to SaaS.

Published on:

Yet another state jumped on the band wagon to force out-of-state companies to collect and remit state tax. Specifically, South Dakota recently passed legislation adding sales and use tax collection requirements for out-of-state businesses conducting sales within the state. The legislation continues the trend of states enacting aggressive nexus statutes aimed at out-of-state online retailers.

The concept of nexus is derived from the Commerce Clause and the Due Process Clause of the United State Constitution. Essentially, these Federal limitations limit the ability of a state to tax business that takes place outside of the state. However, if a business has enough of connection to a state, then the state can force the business to abide by its state and local tax laws.

In Quill Corporation v. North Dakota (U.S. 1992), the U.S. Supreme Court held that nexus required a physical presence of the business within the state to require a business to follow a state’s state and local tax laws. The physical presence requirement has resulted in much litigation throughout the country. Essentially, there has been confusion as to how much of a connection to a state is required before a physical presence is established.

Published on:

I have been writing about the taxability of the online travel companies for some time. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court case of Alachua County v. Expedia, Inc., ruled that the local bed tax should be imposed on the amount the hotel received rather than the higher amount the customer pays the Online Travel Company (“OTC”). Similarly, the Court of Appeal of Wisconsin recently held that reservation facilitation services are not among the taxable services enumerated in section 77.52(2)(a)1, Wisconsin Statutes.

In the Wisconsin case, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (“WDOR”) attempted to assess tax on any “internet service provider” that provides lodging throughout Wisconsin. The WDOR argued that the markup amount retained by the internet service provider is subject to tax under section 77.52(2)(a)1, Wisconsin Statutes.

However, the law worked very differently. Specifically, in Wisconsin, section 77.52(2)(a)1, Wisconsin Statutes, tax is only imposed on “the furnishing of rooms or lodging to transients by hotelkeepers, motel operators and other persons furnishing accommodations that are available to the public, irrespective of whether membership is required for use of the accommodations.” The crux of this case turns to the word “furnishing.” Is an online travel company “furnishing” a hotel room?

Published on:

Few understand or even bring up sales tax issues when they order pizza. The next time you order pizza, take a look at the receipt and see if the pizza shop charges you for the delivery. Taking it a step further, what happens if you purchase an item and pay for shipping charges? Is tax due on just the item, or is it also due on the delivery charge as well? The answer depends largely on whether the delivery charge is separately stated and if it is optional. This issue will be in center stage for a recent class action filed in Broward County against Pizza Hut.

Lauren Minniti, the class representative, purchased a pizza from Pizza Hut and had it delivered. Pizza Hut allegedly charged her tax based on the charge for the pizza and for the separately stated delivery fee instead of tax on the pizza alone. Was this correct?
Continue reading

Published on:

It never ceases to amaze me, the wide variety of companies that state agencies attempt to extort money from. I mean, how could a portable toilet company possibly have a sales tax problem? Most states impose a sales tax on the sale or rental of tangible personal property, but do not tax services. From the perspective of a toilet industry, if a venue rents a toilet, it is clearly a rental of tangible personal property subject to tax. If the same venue pays a fee to clean the toilets, then it sounds like a nontaxable service. But what happens when the venue rents the toilet and purchases the cleaning service along with it? In this part tangible personal property rental, part service transaction (known to the sales and use tax attorney as a “mixed transaction”), is only part of the transaction taxable or is the entire charge subject to sales tax? Many states take the incredibly helpful “it depends” approach, and look to an even more helpful “object of the transaction” test. In reality, it truly seems like state agencies and courts reach a conclusion first and fill in the reasons later.
Continue reading

Published on:

The Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) has had its hands full with tax cases this year. Although largely unpopular and unexciting for the general public, SCOTUS find tax cases even less appealing. In fact, since 1992 in Quill, SCOTUS has not heard a case dealing with sales tax nexus. Despite its unpopularity, the nexus issue is an important one since the advent of the Internet. However, every statistic has its anomaly. From a state tax perspective, SCOTUS issued two opinions in 2 days, which is impossible. The first case, the DMAcase came down yesterday, March 3, 2015, ruling that a taxpayer could embark on a constitutional challenge to a state tax in federal court. Even more riveting, SCOTUS ruled today, March 4, 2015, in theCSX case.

By way of brief background, federal law prohibits states from imposing taxes that “discriminate against rail carriers.” With that in mind, Alabama decided to impose a 4% tax on diesel fuel purchases made by a rail carrier and exempt similar purchases made by other competitors, namely motor and water carriers. However, motor carriers pay 19 cents per gallon of fuel tax on diesel purchases and water carriers don’t pay tax on diesel fuel purchases. Is this the type of discrimination the feds were talking about? Does anyone really care?
Continue reading

Published on:

Direct Marketing Association has continued its fight for consumer privacy with Colorado. In September, 2014, I wrote about how DMA has taken its challenge up to the Supreme Court of the United States. DMA filed its opening DMA Brief.pdfin the Supreme Court of the United States on September 9, 2014 and argued that the case should be allowed to be heard in federal court. A summary can be found DMA Summary.pdf. The Supreme Court heard the case in its recent term and announced its opinion on March 3, 2015. From a state and local tax perspective, the case has broad and interesting constitutional issues.

At its heart, Colorado thought it would effective to enact a law that affected “non-collecting retailer.” In Colorado’s eyes, if a company made sales in Colorado over $100,000, then it was subject to a host of regulation, including: provide notices to Colorado purchasers, send annual purchase summaries to the customers and send the report to Colorado. This all had to be done despite the fact the company had no nexus, or connection, with Colorado. DMA, agroup of businesses and organizations that markets products using advertisements, thought this was incredibly onerous and unfair, so it challenged the Colorado law in federal court. At trial, the DMA convinced the trial court that this law was impermissible because it convinced a judge that the law discriminated against, and placed an undue burden on interstate commerce.
Continue reading

Published on:

For the past few years, I have been writing a number of blogs and articles recently discussing the Department of Business and Professional Regulation here in Florida and its potentially unfair audit tactics. Many of you have seen cigar wrappers, or the more scientifically described “blunt wraps,” at convenience stores and gas stations throughout the state and country. Are those items tobacco products subject to Florida’s other tobacco products tax? On January 9, 2015, our first case went to hearing on the taxability of blunt wraps in Brandy’s – Amen Complaint.pdf
Continue reading