Friday, October 29, 2010

Amazon Wins First Amendment Challenge to North Carolina DOR Information Request LLC (“Amazon”) has prevailed in its highly-publicized court challenge to a demand by the North Carolina Department of Revenue for information regarding purchases made by Amazon’s North Carolina customers during the period August 1, 2003 to February 28, 2010. The Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington (where Amazon is headquartered) issued a ruling on October 25, 2010, in LLC v. Kenneth R. Lay, in his capacity as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Revenue, Case No. C10-664 MJP. The ruling enjoins the North Carolina DOR from requiring that Amazon provide the Department with names and addresses of its North Carolina customers and details regarding the products they purchased from Amazon.

The Department, in connection with an investigation of Amazon’s possible liability for uncollected use tax on sales to North Carolina residents, had requested that Amazon provide it “all information for all sales to customers with a North Carolina shipping address” for the six-and-a-half year period under examination. Amazon provided the DOR detailed records of products shipped to North Carolina for the entire period, but refused to provide the names or personal information of its customers purchasing such products. When the Department pressed for the information, Amazon sued in federal court, asserting that the Department’s request violated the First Amendment by chilling the exercise of the freedom of speech of Amazon’s customers (and of Amazon itself). On October 25, the Court agreed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New York’s “Other Affiliate” Nexus Law

By now, many of our readers may be aware of the New York “Affiliate” Nexus law, which provides for a presumption of nexus under certain circumstances; i.e. where a remote seller uses a New York resident (an “affiliate”) to link to its website and pays commissions of more than $10,000 per year to such New York affiliate as a result of sales the affiliates facilitate. See N.Y. Tax Law § 1101(b)(8)(k); and v. New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, 23 Misc. 3d 418, 82 N.Y. S.2d 842 (2009) (on appeal to the New York Court of Appeals).

In 2009, the New York Assembly enacted another law to address a second kind of “affiliate.” This time, the definition of affiliate is based upon the more common usage of the term in which the affiliate is related to the out-of-state company by an ownership interest. The law is found in Tax Law §1101(b)(8)(i)(1). In particular, the statute, when enacted, provided two separate “conditions” or situations for establishing that a remote seller is deemed a vendor required to collect sales and use tax based upon the activities of the seller’s New York affiliate. In the first condition, the out-of-state seller is deemed a vendor required to collect sales and use tax if any person or entity owns, directly or indirectly, more than 5% of the retailer, and a New York sales tax vendor uses a trademark, service mark or trade name in New York that is the same as that used in New York by the remote seller. This condition is designed to address multi-channel vendors, and is similar to statutes adopted in other states.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New York Tax Department “Clarifies” Sales Tax on Reports Derived from Public Documents

The New York Department of Taxation and Finance recently issued a “clarification of existing Tax Department interpretation,” concerning the application of New York’s sales and use tax on “information services” to reports derived from publicly-available documents. For many companies, this “clarification” may well constitute a complete reversal of prior Department advice, as the Department itself has acknowledged.

New York tax law has, for many years, included a broadly-worded tax on “information services” that, by its terms, and under much of the Department’s prior authority, made the service of providing information reports (whether written, electronic, or even oral) taxable, unless the reports were comprised of information that was uniquely “personal” to the recipient. See N.Y. Tax Law § 1105(c)(1). In that regard, even if the particular compilation of information would be of interest only to the recipient, when the source data used to create the report was information that would be useful to many different entities or persons (such as public documents), a report was not deemed to be sufficiently “personal” to be exempt from tax.