The Illinois Court of Appeals held that an energy company’s book-out transactions, which do not involve the physical transfer of fuel, are taxable sales under the Cook County fuel tax ordinance because they involve the transfer of an ownership interest as to the fuel. The company enters into book-out transactions to settle forward contracts (i.e., agreements to deliver fuel on a specified date in the future) financially rather than through physical delivery of fuel. 

Reversing the circuit court, the Court of Appeals rejected the taxpayer’s argument that no taxable event occurred because the fuel tax applied to the retail sale of gasoline and other fuel, and the “book-out” transactions were purely financial, without any physical transfer of property. The court agreed with the Department that the fuel tax ordinance “broadly” defined a taxable “sale” to include “any transfer of ownership . . . by any means whatsoever.” In the court’s view, the taxpayer’s forward contracts involved taxable transfers of intangible ownership interest.

However, the court declined to apply penalties, concluding that the taxpayer’s position was a reasonable, albeit incorrect, interpretation of the law considering no physical transfer of property occurred.

Marathon Petroleum Co. v. The Cook Cnty. Dep’t of Revenue, 2022 Ill. App. 210635 (Ill. App. Ct. 2022)