In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court today overruled its landmark decisions in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota and National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois, disposing of the “physical presence” rule that has served as the bright-line standard for whether remote sellers are required to collect state sales taxes. Although the Court made clear its criticisms of the physical presence standard—referring to it as “arbitrary,” “artificial,” and a “judicially created tax shelter”—it was less clear in describing a new standard to replace it.
On June 21, 2018, the US Supreme Court struck down the “physical presence rule” of Quill and National Bellas Hess which barred states from imposing sales tax collection requirements on certain out-of-state sellers. This decision is expected to have a significant impact on online sales across the country.
The case, South Dakota v. Wayfair, is the first sales tax jurisdiction case heard by the US Supreme Court in 25 years.
The physical presence rule challenged in this case has long been criticized as giving out-of-state sellers an advantage. In its opinion, the Supreme Court held that over time, the physical presence rule became further removed from economic reality and resulted in significant revenue losses to the States. Additionally, the court held that the physical presence rule, both as first formulated and as applied today, is an incorrect interpretation of the Commerce Clause.
Read the Wayfair Opinion
Read the full opinion in South Dakota v. Wayfair here. Additional insight and analysis will be added to this post throughout the week.
About the Case
- Title: South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., et al.
- Supreme Court Decision: No. 17–494.
- Decision Below: State v. Wayfair Inc., 901 N.W.2d 754 (2018) (PDF)
- Listen: Oral Argument Audio.
The Wayfair case re-examines the Supreme Court’s 1992 holding of Quill v. North Dakota, in which the court ruled that states could not require mail order retailers that lack a physical presence in the state to collect sales tax from their customers. The Quill decision protects Internet retailers that lack physical presence from being forced to collect tax on online sales.
Post-Wayfair Oral Argument Webcast
On April 18, 2018, the Tax Executives Institute (TEI) and Thomson Reuters hosted a two-hour webcast entitled “South Dakota v. Wayfair – Insights on the Oral Argument.” Eversheds Sutherland Partner Jeff Friedman was among the panelists who addressed the issues raised by Wayfair and provided commentary on the oral arguments.
Wayfair Case Background
In 1967, the US Supreme Court held that the Commerce Clause prohibits a state from requiring catalog retailers to collect sales taxes on sales unless the retailer has a physical presence there. Nat’l Bellas Hess v. Dep’t of Rev. of Ill., 386 U.S. 753 (1967).
In 1992, the US Supreme Court declined to overrule the physical presence requirement of Bellas Hess in a state sales tax case involving a mail-order catalog seller. Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992). In Wayfair, South Dakota has brought a similar case against three online sellers – Wayfair Inc., Overstock.com, Inc., and Newegg Inc.
More: See the Supreme Court docket for complete case filings.
Photos from Oral Arguments
- Politico, A taxing case on the Supreme Court’s docket“.” Bernie Becker. (April, 17, 2018)
- Tax Notes, “South Dakota Slams Physical Presence Rule as ‘Unworkable and Indefensible.” Jad Chamseddine. (April 10, 2018) (Subscription.)
- Bloomberg, “South Dakota Rebuffs E-retailer Concerns in Last High Court Brief.” Ryan Prete. (April 9, 2018)
- Reuters, “U.S. Supreme Court takes up state online sales tax dispute.” Lawrence Hurley. (Jan. 12, 2018)
About Eversheds Sutherland SALT:
As state and local jurisdictions in the US evolve their tax systems and engage in increasingly sophisticated enforcement and litigation strategies, businesses need sound state and local tax (SALT) advice more than ever before. Eversheds Sutherland’s SALT practice is committed to delivering innovative solutions that meet the needs of your business. Read more.
On June 11, 2018, Senate Bill 8991 was introduced by New York Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. The Bill would decouple from the federal treatment of Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (GILTI).
In Kraft Foods Global, Inc. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 2018 WL 2247356 (May 17, 2018), the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, recently upheld a New Jersey Tax Court decision denying a taxpayer an exception to the state’s interest add-back requirement in determining the taxpayer’s corporate net income subject to New Jersey’s corporation business tax (CBT). This case highlights the unintended tax consequences that may result from financing arrangements between related entities.
Like many states, New Jersey uses federal taxable income as a starting point for the CBT and then has several modifications to federal taxable income to arrive at New Jersey taxable income. One of these modifications is the related party interest add-back provision, which provides that “Entire net income shall be determined without the exclusion, deduction or credit of … [i]nterest paid, accrued or incurred for the privilege period to a related member….” N.J.S.A. 54:10A–4(k)(2)(I).
There are five statutory exceptions to the interest add-back requirement. In Kraft Foods, the only exception relied upon by the taxpayer was the “Unreasonable Exception,” which requires the taxpayer to establish “by clear and convincing evidence, as determined by the director, that the disallowance of a deduction is unreasonable.” In support of its argument, the taxpayer argued that its parent company simply “pushed down” loans from bondholders because the parent company could secure a better interest rate on the open market than the taxpayer.
The appellate court upheld the determination of the Tax Court that the taxpayer did not qualify for the Unreasonable Exception. While acknowledging that legislative history supported the taxpayer’s contention that the Unreasonable Exception may apply to a “pushed down” loan, even in the absence of a guarantee of the third-party debt, the appellate court found that the taxpayer did not meet its evidentiary burden. According to the court, the taxpayer produced no document suggesting that it was ultimately responsible for the third-party debt. The taxpayer’s promise to pay its parent company did not contain a guarantee to the third-party bondholders, nor did the promissory notes the taxpayer signed on behalf of its parent contain payment terms or a schedule for principal payments. Thus, according to the appellate court, it was reasonable for the Director to determine that the parent’s debt to the bondholders “was not, legally or effectively, ‘pushed down’” to the taxpayer. Kraft Foods Global, Inc. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 2018 WL 2247356 (May 17, 2018).
On May 24, 2018, the Circuit Court of Cook County upheld the City of Chicago’s imposition of its amusement tax on streaming services.
- On June 9, 2015, the Chicago Department of Finance issued a ruling indicating that electronically delivered amusements are subject to the amusement tax.
- The circuit court upheld the tax against arguments that the tax violated the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act, the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and the Uniformity Clause of the Illinois Constitution, and that the tax exceeds Chicago’s home rule authority.
- Now that Chicago has received a court ruling that the tax does not violate state and federal law, taxpayers should expect that Chicago will aggressively step up their enforcement of the tax.
Maryland Tax Court holds that Maryland’s limitation of interest on refunds resulting from the US Supreme Court’s decision in Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne violates the US Constitution.
- In 2014, the Maryland legislature passed a law to retroactively limit the statutory interest rate on refunds related to the Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne decision.
- The Tax Court held that the same rationale used by the Supreme Court in finding the law at issue in Wynne was in violation of the dormant commerce clause also applies to the limited interest rate on Wynne refunds.
- The limited interest on Wynne refunds is also the subject of a separate class action lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, which had previously been dismissed due to Plaintiff’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
The IRS intends to issue regulations pertaining to states’ attempts to subvert the state and local tax deduction cap.
- The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act imposed a $10,000 ($5,000 for married individuals filing separately) limit on state and local tax deductions for federal income tax purposes.
- Certain states, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, have enacted legislation to allow taxpayers to claim a federal tax deduction in excess of the SALT cap.
- The pending regulations will emphasize that federal income tax substance-over-form principles, not state laws, dictate the characterization of the charitable contributions.
On April 17, 2018, the US Supreme Court is poised to hear oral arguments in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair. The Wayfair case will re-examine the 1992 holding of Quill v. North Dakota, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that states could not compel mail order retailers that lack a physical presence in the state to collect sales tax from their customers. The Quill decision now protects Internet retailers that lack physical presence in states from collecting tax on online sales.
Please join the Tax Executives Institute (TEI) and Thomson Reuters for a two-hour complimentary webcast, on April 18, 2018, entitled “South Dakota v. Wayfair – Insights on the Oral Argument.” Eversheds Sutherland (US) Partner Jeff Friedman will be among the panelists who will address the issues raised by Wayfair, provide commentary on the oral arguments and predict the outcome of the case.
Many states require or permit affiliated businesses to report their income to the state in a combined group return. In their article for Bloomberg Tax, Eversheds Sutherland attorneys Maria Todorova, Justin Brown and Samantha Trencs discuss some of the complexities of combined reporting related to the inclusion of foreign entities in a combined group, including trends among states intended to expand the combined group to include additional foreign affiliates.
The state and local tax (SALT) impact of the recently enacted federal tax reform is still being assessed. Because of states’ broad conformity to the federal income tax laws, many of these changes will have an impact on taxpayers’ SALT liabilities.
In their article for Bloomberg Tax, Eversheds Sutherland attorneys Jeff Friedman, Todd Betor and Michael Spencer focus on the SALT consequences stemming from the following international provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:
• a one-time “transition tax” on untaxed accumulated earnings and profits of controlled foreign corporations and certain other foreign corporations.
• 100% dividends received deduction for certain foreign source dividends.
• current taxation of certain US taxpayer’s global intangible low-taxed income.
• deduction allowed to certain US taxpayers for foreign derived intangible income.
• a base erosion and anti-abuse tax imposed on certain US taxpayers.