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AB 2570: Déjà vu All over Again as California Attempts to Amend CFCA

California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, and Assembly Member Mark Stone have again advanced legislation that would amend the California False Claims Act (CFCA) to enlist private bounty hunters to go after California taxpayers. Becerra described the latest bill, AB 2570, as an additional tool to combat against “corporate cheats” whom Becerra claimed cost the state billions in lost revenue in 2019. Of course, the state already possesses an arsenal of tools to combat any underreporting: currently, the power to investigate cases of suspected tax fraud rests with the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). Thus, as many of the predecessor bill’s critics have adeptly noted, AB 2570 is more appropriately characterized as a “solution in search of a problem.”

The text of AB 2570 is almost identical to its predecessor, AB 1270, which failed to make it out of the legislature last year, and has likely given California’s business-savvy taxpayers a sense of dread-filled déjà vu. AB 1270 came under intense opposition last summer because, as seen in other states, allowing qui tam plaintiffs to initiate civil suits for state and local tax issues leads to abusive practices and undermines the goal of voluntary compliance in tax administration.

Like AB 1270, AB 2570 is replete with problematic provisions, including: (1) the imposition of a separate statute of limitations that will arguably trump any shorter limitations periods imposed by the Revenue & Taxation Code (See Cal. Gov’t Code § 12654(a) which permits claims under the CFCA to be pursued for up to 10 years after the date the violation was committed, compared to standard three or four years for tax audits); (2) a more lenient burden of proof for elements of an alleged violation; and, (3) extremely punitive damages—violators are subject to treble damages (i.e., three times the amount of the underreported tax, interest and penalties), an additional civil penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 for each violation, plus the costs of the civil action to recover the damages and penalties including attorney’s fees.

Unfortunately, private enforcement of state tax code violations has erupted over the past few years after whistleblowers in New York and Illinois purportedly have racked up multimillion dollar settlements as the result of such claims. If enacted, AB 2570 will open the floodgates to a slew of financially incentivized plaintiffs’ attorneys who are eager to enter the litigation lottery in hopes of winning a jackpot settlement payout from California’s taxpayers.

As discussed in our blog post from August 26, 2019, Vultures Circling as Bill to Expand California FCA to Tax Looms in Legislature, regarding AB 1270, when a false claims suit is filed by a private plaintiff (or relator) in a qui tam action, the recovered damages or settlement proceeds are divided between the state and the relator, with the relator permitted to recover up to 50% of the proceeds. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 12652(g)(3). Thus, this practice can be very lucrative for aggressive plaintiff’s attorneys.

Even though AB 1270 ultimately failed to pass in 2019, its successor AB 2570 is worth watching and opposing. 

© 2020 McDermott Will & Emery

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Elle Kaiser McDermott Will Emery SF Tax  State & Local Tax  Tax Controversies
Associate

Elle Kaiser focuses her practice on state and local tax (SALT) matters. She advises clients in various industries, including technology, banking, consumer products, energy, insurance, retail and transportation. Elle is experienced in both tax planning and tax disputes.

Elle has been involved in all phases of the discovery process through administrative appeals and in court. Elle identifies audit strategies, coordinates factual and legal development of issues, and drafts responses to multiple information document requests and audit issue presentation sheets from tax authorities.

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Charles Moll tax attorney McDermott
Partner

Charles (Chuck) Moll focuses his practice on state and local tax (SALT), primarily concentrating on the resolution of tax controversies. He regularly appears before the various California tax authorities—including the State Board of Equalization, the California Franchise Tax Board, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, and the Office of Tax Appeals—as well as local authorities such as assessors and assessment appeals boards. He has litigated at all levels of California’s courts, the US Tax Court, and the US Supreme Court.

Chuck’s practice includes tax matters in other states, as well as federal tax controversies, including representation of clients in federal courts and at appellate hearings before the Internal Revenue Service.

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Troy Van Dongen Tax Lawyer McDermott
Partner

Troy Van Dongen focuses his practice on the resolution of state and local tax (SALT) controversies through negotiation and litigation. He advises clients across the country in a variety of state and local tax matters, including income, franchise, sales, and use taxes, and he has a particularly strong background in property taxation.

 

Troy’s experience includes a wide range of industries, including: manufacturing and software; banking and finance; biotechnology; hospital management; non-profit organizations; commercial office leasing; solar and geothermal power production;...

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