On December 22, 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a taxpayer’s use of computer cookies did not constitute substantial nexus with the state for periods prior to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. The taxpayer sold auto parts entirely online and utilized cookies to track customers that visited its website. Effective October 1, 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue promulgated a regulation that required nondomiciliary vendors that employed apps, cookies, or content delivery networks (“CDNs”) in connection with its sale of goods or services in the state to register, collect, and remit Massachusetts sales or use tax if during the preceding 12 months it also met certain transaction value and volume thresholds. This regulation applied to periods prior to the Wayfair Court’s abrogation of the physical presence nexus rule. Nevertheless, the Department assessed the taxpayer based on its electronic contacts with Massachusetts. The taxpayer protested the Department’s use tax assessment for October 1, 2017 to October 31, 2017.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held for the taxpayer. The court refused to apply Wayfair’s holding retroactively because “the regulation, by its own terms, limited its reach to nondomiciliary Internet vendors that satisfied the physical presence test set forth in Quill.” The court also admonished the Department for ignoring its position (contained in an amicus brief filed with the US Supreme Court) that it would not apply the Wayfair Court’s holding retroactively. Thus, the pre-Wayfair physical presence standard applied for the tax period at issue. Under that standard, the use of apps, cookies, and CDNs did not constitute physical presence in the state.
U.S. Auto Parts Network, Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 199 N.E.3d 840 (Mass. 2022).