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Massachusetts DOR Sending Letters to Sellers Regarding July 1 Effective Date of Economic Nexus Directive

Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (Department) sent letters to several companies regarding Directive 17-1. The Directive announces a “rule” requiring remote internet sellers to register for and begin collecting Massachusetts sales and use tax (sales tax) by July 1, 2017, if they had more than $500,000 in Massachusetts sales during the preceding year. The legal premise behind the rule is that the Department believes sellers with more than $500,000 in annual Massachusetts sales must have more than a de minimis physical presence so that requiring sales tax collection would not be prohibited by Quill Corp v. North Dakota, 504 US 298 (1992). The Directive’s examples of such physical presence include the presence of cookies on purchasers’ computers, use of third-party carriers to make white-glove deliveries and the use of online marketplaces to sell products. The Directive also states that sellers who fail to collect tax beginning July 1, 2017 will be subject to interest and penalties (plus, of course, any uncollected taxes).

We think the Directive is contrary to law on three main grounds. First, we believe that the items that the Department asserts create physical presence are insufficient to establish more than a de minimis physical presence. For example, the presence of cookies on computers in a state appears to be less of a physical presence than the floppy disks the seller in Quill sent into North Dakota (which were used by its customers to place orders) that the United States Supreme Court viewed as de minimis. Second, the Directive violates the state administrative procedures act because it constitutes an administrative rule that was not validly adopted. Third, the Directive’s rule violates the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a federal statute, because the rule discriminates against internet sellers.

By its own terms, the Directive applies only prospectively. The Directive does not assert a blanket rule that internet sellers are liable for sales tax for periods prior to July 1, 2017, if they met a certain sales threshold. The risks from non-collection for such periods are dependent on a company’s specific facts. The letters advise sellers that they may be eligible for voluntary disclosure for such prior periods.

Companies have two general options: (1) register and begin collecting or (2) not register or collect. Litigation has been brought on behalf of a number of sellers to challenge the Directive on the grounds identified above. One important aspect of that litigation is the request for an injunction barring the enforcement of the Directive pending a court decision; an injunction would likely prompt many sellers to take a “wait and see” approach. Ultimately, sellers must make a business decision based on their own facts and business circumstances.

© 2019 McDermott Will & Emery

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About this Author

Arthur R. Rosen, Tax Planning Litigator, McDermott Will Emery, New York Law Firm
Partner

Arthur R. Rosen is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s New York office. His practice focuses on tax planning and litigation relating to state and local tax matters for corporations, partnerships and individuals. Formerly the Deputy Counsel of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, as well as Counsel to the Governor’s Temporary Sales Tax Commission and Tax Counsel to the New York State Senate Tax Committee, Mr. Rosen has held executive tax management positions at Xerox Corporation and AT&T....

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Partner

Richard C. Call is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm's Boston office.  He focuses his practice on state and local tax litigation before administrative and judicial bodies, at all levels and in multiple states, with respect to income, franchise, gross receipts, and sales and use taxes.  He also advises clients on the state and local tax consequences of business restructurings, as well as the impact of new state legislation on current business operations.

Richard is a frequent publisher on state and local tax topics.  He has published articles for State Tax Notes, BNA Weekly State Tax Report, The Tax Executive, the Journal of State Taxation, and the New York University Institute on State and Local Taxation.  Richard has spoken on state and local tax topics in multiple forums, including the Tax Executives Institute, Strafford webinars and the Philadelphia Bar Institute.  In 2013, Richard was selected by Super Lawyers as a New York-Metro “Rising Star” for tax.

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