Friday, July 25, 2014

Software as a Service: Is it a Nontaxable Service?

Many non-state and local tax experts mistakenly believe that subscription charges for Software as a Service ("SaaS"), are not taxable because SaaS is the provision of services. However, there are many states that treat SaaS as taxable. See, e.g., New York TSB-A-11(17)S (June 1, 2011). Fortunately, the majority of states do not tax SaaS. Recently, the Georgia Department of Revenue published an opinion that the provision of SaaS is not taxable, because it does not include the transfer the personal property on a physical medium. See Georgia Letter Ruling SUT No. 2014-02-20-01. Thus, while pre-written software is generally taxable as tangible personal property in Georgia, the Georgia Department of Revenue requires that the transfer take place on a physical medium, such as a diskette or CD, in order to be taxable. Several other states have adopted a similar analysis. The mistake, however, is to believe that such a position is universal among the states. It is not.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Supreme Court Grants Cert In DMA Tax Case

On July 1, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of certiorari filed by the Direct Marketing Association. The DMA is represented by Brann & Isaacson partners George S. Isaacson and Matthew P. Schaefer.

The DMA seeks review of a Tenth Circuit ruling that the Tax Injunction Act bars federal court jurisdiction over a constitutional challenge brought by the DMA to a 2010 Colorado law that requires out-of-state retailers to comply with burdensome notice and reporting obligations that are only indirectly related to the payment of use tax on remote sales. Brann & Isaacson is tax counsel to the DMA and represents over 100 multichannel and online companies.  The United State Supreme Court accepts review in only about 70 out of 7000 petitions filed each session.

Our readers can review previous posts on this topic here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Illinois and Colorado Adopt Two Different Approaches to Internet Click-Through Nexus Laws

We have written extensively about Internet click-through nexus laws. Indeed, Brann & Isaacson prevailed, on behalf of the Performance Marketing Association, in the challenge to the Illinois Internet click-through nexus law. On October 18, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Illinois statute violated the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act (“ITFA”), which is found at 47 U.S.C. §151 note, because the Illinois statute discriminated against electronic commerce. The lower court, the Circuit Court of Cook County, had held that the Illinois statute also violated the Commerce Clause because it mandated that any retailer that had an affiliate relationship with an Illinois company (i.e. the Illinois company referred potential customers to the retailer for a commission or other consideration) was required to collect and remit the Illinois sales and use tax. Because of its ruling under the ITFA, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to address the Commerce Clause issue.

In February 2014, the DMA, also represented by Brann & Isaacson, obtained a preliminary injunction from the District Court of Colorado, enjoining the enforcement of the Colorado reporting nexus law. The Colorado law required those companies that do not have a physical presence in Colorado to file reports with the Colorado Department of Revenue, make certain disclosures on their websites and catalogs and notify their customers through mailings describing the customers' obligation to remit sales taxes to the Colorado Department of Revenue. We reported on this decision in our February 20, 2014 blog post.

Subsequent to both the Illinois and Colorado victories for the industry, the legislatures in both of these states amended their statutes to address click-through nexus arrangements. Their approaches are different, though:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Buffalo Bills Alleged Over-Texting Results in Multi-Million Dollar Settlement

The National Football League’s Buffalo Bills, no strangers to disappointment on the field, are now a cautionary tale for mobile marketers. Last week, a federal judge in the Middle District of Florida approved a class settlement agreement over alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA” 47 U.S.C. §227, et seq.), stemming from text messages sent by the Bills to fans who had explicitly signed up to receive texts from the team.

According to the complaint filed in October 2012, Bills fan Jerry Wojcik visited the Bills website to read news about the team and learned about the Bills text alerts program, under which fans could sign up to receive team news by text message. The program was explicitly opt-in; only fans who signed up would receive text messages. Further, subscribers could cancel their subscriptions at any time. The program description was quite specific, reading, in part: “You will be opted in to receive 3-5 messages per week for a period of 12 months. Text STOP to cancel.”

Mr. Wojcik signed up for the text program and began receiving texts. One week, he allegedly received 6 messages. Another week, he allegedly received 7. Noting that the program terms had stated that he would receive 3-5 messages per week, he sued, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, alleging a massive violation of the TCPA and seeking damages of up to $1500 for every text above the permitted 5/week. A year and a half later, the parties have agreed to a settlement potentially worth as much as $3 million (depending on the number of claimants who come forward), including approximately $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs for Wojcik’s lawyers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Danger on the Horizon: Gift Card Companies and Unclaimed Property Laws

There are approximately twenty states that require issuers and holders of gift cards to pay to their state treasury the balances of any unredeemed gift cards, which is otherwise known as “breakage.” (For purposes of this article, I refer to gift cards in the broad sense, including gift certificates, gift cards, and stored value cards). The larger states—New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Delaware—provide, however, for the escheat of gift cards. (Technically the required payment of unredeemed gift card balances is based on unclaimed property or abandoned property laws rather than escheat, but the underlying principles of the state taking funds on behalf of its citizens are the same). A majority of state unclaimed property laws do not escheat unredeemed gift card balances.

For legitimate business reasons with the result of reducing payment of breakage, many retailers with gift card programs have entered into agreements with third parties such as Card Compliant in which the third party forms a special purpose gift card entity to issue the gift cards. Other retailers, without use of a third party, have set up their own gift card subsidiaries to issue their gift cards. The gift card companies are formed in states such as Ohio or Florida, which do not require the payment of breakage to the states. Under the priority rules established by a line of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and embodied in the various state unclaimed property statutes, if the records of the holder (i.e. issuer) of the gift card do not identify the last known address of the owner of the gift card, then the state for payment of the unredeemed gift card balances is the state of incorporation of the holder. Thus, since the gift card company is incorporated in a state with favorable laws regarding gift cards, and because the gift card companies do not maintain the addresses of the owners of the gift cards, the gift card company (and the retailer, which is not the holder) are not liable for payment of breakage. In other words, the theory is that the states with laws that require the escheat of gift cards—even if it is the state of incorporation of the retailer— cannot enforce its laws to require payment of the breakage against either the retailer or the gift card company.

The theory has now run up against the reality of a qui tam suit brought by a noted plaintiff’s securities fraud law firm on behalf of the State of Delaware and a relator (the individual who sues on behalf of the state in a qui tam suit) against Card Compliant, its special purpose gift card entities, and various retailers that caused their gift cards to be issued by these Card Compliant entities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Did Wyoming Just Become an Internet Affiliate Nexus State?

We have written often about state Internet “click through” nexus laws, including the New York affiliate nexus statute unsuccessfully challenged by and, and the Illinois Internet affiliate nexus law stuck down by the Illinois Supreme Court in response to a suit brought by the Performance Marketing Association (for which Brann & Isaacson served as counsel). In most states, meaningful risk of Internet affiliate nexus for an out-of-state seller arises only after the legislature adopts a statute that, like New York’s law, creates a rebuttable presumption of “click through” nexus. In our view, even such a rebuttable presumption suffers from serious constitutional failings. Thus, an even more aggressive position, such as asserting that an Internet affiliate relationship, by itself, can create nexus for an out-of-state vendor without providing any opportunity to rebut the presumption, is plainly at odds with the Constitution.

On April 3, 2014, the Wyoming Supreme Court waded into the “click through” nexus arena and raised the possibility that, under Wyoming case law, the mere existence of an Internet affiliate relationship with an in-state website may be deemed sufficient to create nexus for an out-of-state retailer. See et al. v. Wyoming Department of Revenue, 2014 WY 43 (Apr. 3, 2014). The case is one in an extensive series of cases around the country involving challenges to state tax assessments brought by online travel companies. At issue typically in these cases is the question of whether online travel companies (“OTCs”) are subject to a state sales/use tax collection obligation on the portion of their charge to consumers that is not paid to the hotel that provides the room (as to which tax is often collected by the OTC, paid to the hotel, and remitted remitted to the state). The OTCs have argued that the portion of the charge not paid to the hotel is a service fee collected by the OTCs, not a part of the charge to the consumer for the room.

The OTC cases raise numerous issues under both state sales and use tax law and federal constitutional principles, including substantial nexus. Since nexus requires a sufficient connection between the state and both the seller and the activity/transaction being taxed, see Complete Auto Transit Inc. v. Brady, 430 U.S. 274, 279 (1977), the OTCs have argued that nexus is lacking with regard to the transaction in question, since their sales occur on servers located outside the state in which the room is provided. In other words, the OTCs assert that the state lacks nexus with the activity being taxed, regardless of whether there is sufficient nexus with the OTCs themselves as sellers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

State Court Suspends Colorado Notice and Reporting Law

On Tuesday, February 18, 2014, Judge Morris Hoffman of the Colorado District Court for the City and County of Denver granted the motion for a preliminary injunction filed by the Direct Marketing Association (“DMA”) in its suit challenging the 2010 Colorado statute that imposes onerous notice and reporting obligations upon out-of-state retailers that do not collect Colorado sales tax. The Court suspended, effective immediately, all of the Colorado law’s requirements (referred to in the ligation as the “Transactional Notice,” the “Annual Purchase Summary,” and the “Customer Information Report”). Judge Hoffman explained that “Plaintiff has proved to my satisfaction at this stage that each of the Act’s three notification and reporting requirements are facially discriminatory” in violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. As a result, remote sellers that do not collect Colorado sales tax are not required to comply with the law’s provisions, pending further action by the Court as the case proceeds.

Readers will recall that the DMA previously obtained both a preliminary and permanent injunction against the Colorado law’s enforcement from the federal District Court for the District of Colorado. The injunction was dissolved in late 2013 after the federal Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the Tax Injunction Act (“TIA”) deprived the federal District Court of jurisdiction to enter the injunction. In response, the DMA filed an action in state court in November 2013, challenging the law.

The DMA is represented in the case by Brann & Isaacson partners George Isaacson and Matthew Schaefer.

The state court will hold a status conference in the next few weeks to determine further proceedings in the case. We will keep readers apprised of further developments in the case.