Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Tax Law
McIntosh v. Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
Plaintiff’s class action complaint alleged that Walgreens violated the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, 815 ILCS 505/1, by unlawfully collecting a municipal tax imposed by Chicago on purchases of bottled water that were exempt from taxation under the ordinance. The circuit court dismissed the action, citing the voluntary payment doctrine, which provides that money voluntarily paid with full knowledge of the facts cannot be recovered on the ground that the claim for payment was illegal. The appellate court reversed, reasoning that the complaint pleaded that the unlawful collection of the bottled water tax was a deceptive act under the Consumer Fraud Act. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal, first holding that claims under the Consumer Fraud Act are not categorically exempt from the voluntary payment doctrine. The court rejected an argument that the receipt issued by Walgreens constituted a representation that the tax was required by the ordinance. Misrepresentations or mistakes of law cannot form the basis of a claim for fraud. View "McIntosh v. Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc." on Justia Law
Littlejohn v. Costco Wholesale Corp.
Littlejohn sought to sue Costco, the California Board of Equalization, and Abbott to recover sales tax on purchases of Abbott’s product Ensure. Littlejohn alleged that Ensure is properly categorized as a food; no sales tax was actually due on his purchases; Costco was under no obligation to pay and should not have paid sales tax on its sales of Ensure. The complaint alleged that during the period in question Ensure was classified as a food product exempt from sales tax, not a nutritional supplement. Littlejohn based his claim on a 1974 California Supreme Court decision, Javor. The trial court concluded that the judicially noticed documents in the record showed the Board had not resolved the question of whether Ensure was nontaxable during the relevant period.. The court held that the documents were entitled to deference, but did not have the same force of law as Board regulations and were not binding. The court of appeal affirmed, reasoning that the case does not involve allegations of unique circumstances showing the Board has concluded consumers are owed refunds for taxes paid on sales of Ensure. A Javor remedy should be limited to the unique circumstances where the plaintiff shows that the state has been unjustly enriched by the overpayment of sales tax, and the Board concurs that the circumstances warrant refunds. View "Littlejohn v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law
South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.
Many states tax the retail sales of goods and services in the state. Sellers are required to collect and remit the tax; if they do not in-state consumers are responsible for paying a use tax at the same rate. Under earlier Supreme Court decisions, states could not require a business that had no physical presence in the state to collect its sales tax. Consumer compliance rates are low; it is estimated that South Dakota lost $48-$58 million annually. South Dakota enacted a law requiring out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax, covering only sellers that annually deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the state or engage in 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the state. State courts found the Act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court vacated, overruling the physical presence rule established by its decisions in Quill (1992), and National Bellas Hess (1967). That rule gave out-of-state sellers an advantage and each year becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the states. A business need not have a physical presence in a state to satisfy the demands of due process. The Commerce Clause requires “a sensitive, case-by-case analysis of purposes and effects,” to protect against any undue burden on interstate commerce, taking into consideration the small businesses, startups, or others who engage in commerce across state lines. Without the physical presence test, the first inquiry is whether the tax applies to an activity with a substantial nexus with the taxing state. Here, the nexus is sufficient. Any remaining Commerce Clause concerns may be addressed on remand. View "South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc." on Justia Law
State v. Wayfair Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment for certain Internet sellers (Sellers) and enjoining the State from enforcing 2016 legislation extending the obligation to collect and remit sales tax to sellers with no physical presence in the state. Pursuant to the legislation, the State brought this declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that Sellers, who had no physical presence in the state, must comply with the requirements of the 2016 legislation. The circuit court enjoined the State from enforcing the obligation to collect and remit sales tax against Sellers, observing its obligation to adhere to Supreme Court precedent prohibiting the imposition of an obligation to collect and remit sales tax on sellers with no physical presence in the State. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court correctly applied the law when it granted Sellers’ motion for summary judgment. View "State v. Wayfair Inc." on Justia Law
City of Fontana v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration
If a municipality imposes a sales tax, the State Board of Equalization (now the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration) has the authority to collect and then remit the tax back to the municipality under the Bradley-Burns Uniform Local Sales and Use Tax Law (Stats. 1955, ch. 1311; 7200 et seq.). The Board is authorized to determine where sales of personal property occur and to designate the municipality that will receive the local sales tax it collects. After an internal reorganization of an existing seller, the Board decided that local sales tax which had been remitted to Fontana and Lathrop, where the seller had warehouses, would be “reallocated” to Ontario, the site of the seller’s new marketing operation. The trial court set aside that decision. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. The manner in which the Board determined where the taxable event occurred was well within its administrative expertise and its discretionary authority to make such a determination. Customers believed they were ordering goods from the Ontario facility, which became the retailer when it purchased goods for shipment to customers. View "City of Fontana v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration" on Justia Law
Hertz Corp. v. City of Chicago
Chicago's personal property lease transaction tax ordinance levies a tax on the lease or rental in the city of personal property or the privilege of using in the city personal property that is leased or rented outside the city. The lessee is obliged to pay the tax. In 2011, the department of revenue issued Ruling 11, as guidance to suburban vehicle rental agencies located within three miles of Chicago’s borders. Ruling 11 stated that, in the event of an audit, the department of revenue would hold suburban rental agencies responsible for paying the tax unless there was written proof that the lessee was exempt, based upon the use of the leased vehicle outside the city. Absent such proof, the department would assume that a customer who is a Chicago resident would use the leased vehicle primarily in the city and that a customer who is not a Chicago resident would use the vehicle primarily outside the city. Hertz and Enterprise filed suit. The circuit court enjoined enforcement of the ordinance against plaintiffs with respect to short-term vehicle rental transactions occurring outside the city’s borders. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court found the tax unconstitutional under the state constitution Home Rule Provision. Absent an actual connection to Chicago, Ruling 11, which imposed the tax based on only a lessee’s stated intention or a conclusive presumption of use in Chicago based solely on residency, imposed a tax on transactions that take place wholly outside Chicago borders. View "Hertz Corp. v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law
Lucent Techs., Inc. v. State Bd. of Equalization
The manufacturer sells telecommunications equipment to telephone companies, which pay for the equipment, written instructions on using the equipment, a copy of the computer software that makes the equipment work, and the right to copy that software onto the equipment’s hard drive and use the software to operate the equipment. An almost identical transaction was previously found to satisfy the requirements of California’s technology transfer agreement statutes (Rev. & Tax. Code 6011(c)(10) & 6012(c)(10)), so that the manufacturer was responsible for paying sales taxes only on tangible portions of the transaction (equipment and instructions), but not the intangible portions (software and rights to copy and use it). The State Board of Equalization nonetheless assessed a sales tax. The manufacturer paid the taxes and sought a refund. The court of appeal held that the Board’s assessment of the sales tax was erroneous. The manufacturer’s decision to give the telephone companies copies of the software on magnetic tapes and compact discs (rather than over the Internet) does not turn the software or the rights to use it into “tangible personal property” subject to the sales tax. View "Lucent Techs., Inc. v. State Bd. of Equalization" on Justia Law
North Cent. Rental & Leasing, LLC v. United States
Butler sells agricultural and construction equipment, primarily for Caterpillar. In 2002, Butler formed North Central to take over its leasing operations. The companies are ultimately controlled by the same family and share space. Butler performs North Central’s accounting and ordering functions and initially pays the wages of its employees. Caterpillar assigned separate dealer codes, but Butler used its code to order equipment for itself and North Central. Under North Central's like-kind-exchange (LKE) program, North Central sold its used equipment to third parties, who paid a qualified intermediary, Accruit, which forwarded proceeds to Butler; Butler purchased new Caterpillar equipment for North Central and transferred it to North Central via Accruit, charging the same amount that Butler paid for the equipment. Butler's LKE transactions facilitated favorable Caterpillar financing terms. Butler essentially received a six-month, interest-free loan from each exchange. From 2004-2007 North Central claimed nonrecognition treatment of gains from 398 LKE transactions under IRC 1031, so that the gain was not included in gross income at the time of actual sale or gain. The IRS declared that the transactions were not entitled to nonrecognition treatment, reasoning that North Central structured the transactions to avoid the related-party exchange restrictions of section 1031(f). The district court analyzed Butler's unfettered access to the cash proceeds and the relative complexity of the transactions and entered judgment in favor of the government. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. View "North Cent. Rental & Leasing, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law
Guangdong Wireking Housewares v. United States
The Tariff Act of 1930 permits the Department of Commerce to impose two types of duties on imports that injure domestic industries: antidumping duties on goods sold in the U.S. "at less than ... fair value,” 19 U.S.C. 1673 and countervailing duties on goods that receive “a countervailable subsidy” from a foreign government, 1671(a). Commerce has long collected both types of duties from market economy importers. In 2012, Congress enacted legislation that overruled the Federal Circuit’s 2011 decision, GPXI, and permitted imposition of both antidumping and countervailing duties with respect to importers from non-market economy (NME) countries. Because this law is retroactive and does not require Commerce to adjust for any double counting that may result from the retroactive imposition of both countervailing and antidumping duties, Wireking, an importer affected by the change, claimed that it violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution. The Court of International Trade upheld the new law. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Wireking did not show that the absence of a retrospective double-counting provision negates the law’s predominantly remedial impact. The 2012 law is not punitive and does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause. View "Guangdong Wireking Housewares v. United States" on Justia Law
Hartney Fuel Oil Co. v. Village of Forest View
Hartney, a fuel oil retailer with a home office in Forest View, in Cook County, accepted purchase orders in the Village of Mark, in Putnam County, through a business with which it contracted. No Hartney employees were involved there. By so structuring sales, Hartney avoided liability for retail occupation taxes of Cook County, Forest View, and the Regional Transportation Authority. Hartney’s interpretation of the law was consistent with regulations published at the time. However, The Illinois Department of Revenue determined, through audit, that Hartney’s sales were attributable to the company’s Forest View office, rather than the Mark location reported by the company, and issued a notice of tax liability. Hartney paid penalties of $23,111,939 under protest and filed suit. The court agreed that the bright-line test for the situs of sale is where purchase orders are accepted. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court, court disagreed. The court found the “Jurisdictional Questions” regulations of the Administrative Code inconsistent with the statutes and case law. The legislature has not adopted a single-factor test for the situs of retail activity. The court’s own precedent calls for fact-intensive inquiry where there is a composite of many activities, and the legislature, by consistently employing the “business of selling” language, has effectively invoked that precedent. The Department of Revenue must abate Hartney’s penalties and tax liability for the relevant period because Hartney’s actions were consistent with its regulations in effect at the time.View "Hartney Fuel Oil Co. v. Village of Forest View" on Justia Law