On March 22, 2024, the Appellate Court of Illinois issued a split decision in a case involving local fuel taxes transferred by a fuel distributor to affiliates that operated gas stations in Cook County, Illinois. 

Under Cook County’s local fuel tax ordinance, distributors must pay a 6 cent per gallon tax on fuel sold to a “retail dealer,” which the ordinance defines as a person engaged in the business of selling gasoline or diesel fuel for use or consumption. Taxpayer was a fuel distributor that transferred gasoline and diesel fuel to affiliated and unaffiliated gas stations in Cook County. Taxpayer collected tax on fuel sold to unaffiliated stations but not on fuel transferred to affiliated stations. There were two types of affiliate stations: (1) stations owned by Taxpayer but operated by an affiliate (Buck’s) and (2) stations owned and operated by another affiliate (Buchanan South).

The County imposed tax on all of Taxpayer’s transfers to the affiliated stations. A Department ALJ upheld the assessment, but on appeal, the circuit court reversed in part, finding that only transfers to the second type of affiliated stations were taxable sales to a retail dealer. On further appeal, the Appellate Court of Illinois agreed with the circuit court, finding that transfers to the first type of affiliate station were not taxable, because the affiliate operating the stations, Buck’s, was not a retail dealer since Taxpayer was the owner of the stations and Buck’s did not ultimately receive the revenue generated from the gas stations. 

The Court, however, reached the opposite conclusion with respect to sales to stations owned by Taxpayer’s other affiliate, Buchanan South, since Buchanan South owned the stations.  The Court rejected Taxpayer’s argument that it did not owe tax because the companies had a “single unitary business model” and that the fuel tax was paid on all retail consumer purchases of fuel. The Court reasoned that the businesses were two separate entities and the local ordinance did not create different obligations for companies based solely on the intertwined nature of their business construction. Accordingly, the Court held that Taxpayer was responsible for paying tax on all fuel provided to its affiliate, including fuel that its affiliate could not sell due to evaporation or spillage. 

Buchanan Energy (N) LLC v. Cty. of Cook, 2024 IL App (1st) 220056 (Mar. 22, 2024).