Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oklahoma Seeks to Expand the Definition of Nexus for Internet and Catalog Retailers

In our blog post last week, we discussed the new Oklahoma sales tax statute, which contains a “Colorado-like” reporting requirement for those Internet and catalog sellers that do not collect and remit the Oklahoma sales and use tax. As a second part of the statute, the Oklahoma legislature also expanded the definition of those companies that are engaged in the business of selling tangible personal property for use in Oklahoma; i.e. those companies required to register to collect and remit the Oklahoma sales and use tax.  This part of the statute, like the reporting requirements section, is not the model of clarity, so there is some ambiguity in the statute.

First, the statute provides for “affiliate nexus” attribution. Thus, under the new law a retailer that otherwise does not have nexus based on its own activities (an out-of-state retailer) is deemed to have nexus if it and another retailer that has nexus with Oklahoma are commonly-owned, and if: (i) the Oklahoma-retailer sells the same or a “substantially similar” line of products under the same trade name as that of the non-nexus retailer (the so-called multi-channel retailer); (ii) the facilities or employees of the Oklahoma retailer are used to advertise, promote or facilitate sales by the out-of-state retailer; or (iii) the in-state retailer has a warehouse or similar place of business in Oklahoma that is used to deliver property to the out-of-state retailer’s customers, as in a drop ship relationship. Additionally, any retailer that is part of a controlled group (as defined under the Internal Revenue Code) faces a rebuttable presumption that it is engaged in business in Oklahoma if a component member of the controlled group is engaged in any of the activities described above. The presumption can be rebutted if the retailer shows that the component member did not do any of those activities on behalf of the retailer. The foregoing provisions are more comprehensive than those of other state statutes, which have some but not all of the provisions regarding common ownership. Colorado’s statute, for example, provides for a presumption of nexus similar to that described for members of controlled groups above and Arkansas’ statute contains a similar provision to that of the first category.

The statutory definition of retailer is also expanded to now include an out-of-state company that has a “contractual relationship with an entity to provide and perform installation or maintenance services for the retailer’s purchasers” in Oklahoma. This statutory provision is similar but not identical to that in Virginia. Va. Code § 58.1-612.

Of course, even if a retailer satisfies the standard under this new law, unless the retailer has nexus under the Quill Commerce Clause test, Oklahoma would not be justified in requiring sales tax collection from the retailer. Several of the provisions in the new law raise significant constitutional law questions. Please see, for example, the recent U.S. District Court for Louisiana decision in St. Tammany Parish Tax Collector v., Civ. Act. No. 05-5695 (E.D. La., March 22, 2007).

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