The pending precedential Office of Tax Appeal’s (OTA) decision of Appeal of L. Smith, OTA Case No. 20036033 (Dec. 7, 2022) concerned whether California could impose income tax on a nonresident’s distributive share of gain from the sale of an interest in a timeshare developer operating in California as a limited liability company (Timeshare). This turned on two issues. 

The first issue was whether a nonresident’s distributive share of gain on a sale of an interest in a pass-through entity must be sourced using the statute for sourcing gain from the sale of intangibles, Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 17952, or FTB’s regulation for sourcing partnership income from a trade, business or profession, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 18, § (“Regulation”) 17951-4.  Following the Court of Appeal’s decision in The 2009 Metropoulos Family Trust, et al. v. Franchise Tax Bd. (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 245, 266 (see our prior coverage here), the OTA found that it must apply FTB’s regulation. Although Metropoulos concerned an S Corporation, OTA found that its holding applies equally to partnerships and limited liability companies taxed as partnerships.

The second issue arose in the course of applying Regulation 17951-4:  whether the parent limited liability company (Holding Co) that sold the interest in Timeshare was engaged in a unitary business with Timeshare. If it was, then the apportionment factors of Timeshare would flow up to Holding Co, resulting in nearly 42 percent of the gain from the sale being sourced to California, as opposed to none. OTA found that Timeshare and Holding Co were engaged in a unitary business. Notably, OTA rejected FTB’s argument that a special unitary test applied to holding companies. It also explained that majority ownership is not required to be unitary in the partnership context because unlike “a corporate shareholder, only the partner’s ownership interest in the partnership’s income and apportionment factors may be combined.” The OTA’s analysis highlighted California’s alternative test for unity — the “three unities test” and “dependency or contribution test” — but focused on the latter because that is what FTB based its assessment on and the taxpayer failed to rebut FTB’s position. Critical factors that OTA relied on in reaching its decision were an integrated executive force, intercompany financing, and a covenant not to compete.

The decision is available here.