Monday, December 12, 2011

Unclaimed Property Laws Often Go Overlooked by E-Marketers, But Many States Are Aggressively Enforcing Them

One set of legal obligations that are often overlooked by Internet sellers arise under states’ “unclaimed property” laws, sometimes referred to under the arcane label of “escheat.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines escheat as “the preferable right of the state to an estate left vacant, and without there being any one in existence able to make a claim thereto.” Although dense, the definition, once parsed, describes a relatively simple concept: under the laws of nearly every state, a business that is holding property on behalf of a third-party (called the “owner”) is obligated to report and turn over the unclaimed property to the state, after passage of a prescribed “dormancy” period.

Unclaimed property includes customers’ unredeemed gift certificates and gift cards, merchandise credits, and uncashed refund checks. It also includes accounts payable, payroll and benefits, shareholder dividends, and even workers’ compensation funds, among other things. Indeed, any third-party obligation that goes unredeemed may be subject to escheat. For Internet retailers, unredeemed gift obligations can be substantial (although fortunately some state laws include exemptions for gift certificates). Retailers should be aware that expiration dates on gift certificates and gift cards do not apply to states’ right of escheat and that there is no statute of limitations on escheat obligations under most states’ laws.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Storm Clouds on the Horizon for Direct Marketers Regarding Required Use Tax Collection

After the introduction in July 2011 of the “Main Street Fairness Act” by three senators from the Democratic Party, federal legislation intended to eliminate the Quill physical presence requirement for state sales and use tax collection has gathered increased support. A group of 10 Senators from both sides of the aisle introduced the “Marketplace Fairness Act” on November 9, 2011. The new bill, S.1832, is sponsored by Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tim Johnson (D-SD), John Boozman (R-AR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Robert Corker (R-TN), and Mark Pryor (D-AR).  On October 13, 2011, Representatives Steve Womack (R-AR) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced in the House a similar, but not identical, bill called the “Marketplace Equity Act.”

As we wrote in our post on August 8, the Main Street Fairness Act, which was sponsored by Senators Durbin, Johnson, and Reed, does not provide meaningful measures to simplify the arduous burden of sales and use tax collection. The Marketplace Fairness Act (and its House counterpart) would provide even less simplification than does the Main Street Fairness Act. It is ironic that despite the unfairness of this proposed legislation to catalogers, online retailers, and other direct marketers, the Marketplace Fairness Act is more likely to pass than prior legislative efforts, because of the increased number of sponsors from both political parties, as well as the coalition of states, industry groups, and big retailers (including e-commerce giant, that have announced their support for this new bill. Thus, the alarm bells should be ringing loudly for Internet and other direct marketers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nexus of Subsidiary Not Automatically Attributable to Parent Company

Recently, a number of states have adopted statutes providing that an out-of state retailer is presumed to have nexus in the state by virtue of ownership of a subsidiary that does business in the state. See California (ABX 1, but note its implementation was delayed by AB 155); Colorado (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-26-102(3)(b)(II)); and Arkansas (Ark. Code Ann. 26-52-117(b)). While each of these state statutes provides that mere ownership creates only a presumption of nexus, which a retailer can rebut, some commentators have interpreted these laws as attributing the nexus of in-state affiliates to related out-of-state companies.

But an out-of-state retailer’s mere ownership of a company without the company acting as an agent or representative of the retailer will not create nexus for the retailer under the constitutional standard. Quill and a number of cases decided both before and after Quill stand for the proposition that mere ownership of another company that has an in-state presence does not create nexus for the parent, absent the in-state subsidiary engaging in activities on behalf of the parent to create a market in the state for the parent. We wrote an article back in 1996 that discusses the case law. See Defending Against Affiliate Nexus in Sales and Use Tax Collection Liability Cases, State Tax Notes (March/April 1996). In other words, the subsidiary must be acting as an agent or representative of the parent company in the state for the nexus of the subsidiary to be attributed to the parent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There May Yet Be Life In The Quill Due Process Prong

In February 2011, we wrote about a case (Gordon v. Holder), in which the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the denial of preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the federal Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT Act), P.L. 111-154 (2010). The PACT Act mandates state sales/use tax compliance by “delivery sellers” of tobacco products, regardless of whether the seller has a physical presence in the state. In vacating the denial of the preliminary injunction, the D.C. Circuit also advised the lower court to address on remand the issue of whether the PACT Act’s imposition of “potentially disparate burdens on ecommerce” violates the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution (even though Congress has the authority to impose such burdens under the Commerce Clause). It appears that the Gordon case remains on remand before the district court as of this writing.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has now also ruled that a federal law must satisfy a minimum standard under the Due Process Clause before it may purport to authorize the imposition of state use tax collection by remote sellers. Red Earth LLC v. Holder, __ F.3d __, 2011 WL 4359919 (September 20, 2011). In Red Earth, the Second Circuit upheld the granting of a preliminary injunction against the PACT Act’s state tax collection provisions as they apply to certain Native American “delivery sellers” of tobacco products, on the grounds that the Act may be in violation of basic Due Process standards. Although, as the Court noted, the Due Process Clause does not require that a retailer have a “physical presence” in a state before a use tax obligation may be imposed, the Court found that the district court did not err in ruling that PACT Act likely violates the Due Process Clause because it “requires a seller to collect based on its making of [only] one delivery” in the state.

Friday, September 23, 2011

California Governor Signs (Possibly Temporary) Affiliate Nexus Law Repeal

As we wrote recently, on September 9, the California legislature passed AB 155, which repeals (for at least the next year) the affiliate nexus provisions of the affiliate nexus law (ABX 1-28) enacted in June. The repeal may be only temporary, because the new law provides that if federal legislation overturning Quill Corp. v. North Dakota is not adopted by July 31, 2012, or if such legislation is adopted, but California does not implement the federal law’s requirements by September 14, 2012, then the affiliate nexus provisions of the repealed law, with some modifications described in our prior post, will kick back in on January 1, 2013, under the terms of AB 155.

Although Governor Brown reportedly had some misgivings regarding AB 155, he signed the bill into law earlier today. The law is effective immediately, so for now, California no longer has an affiliate nexus law. Whether federal legislation will be enacted and whether California will implement any such law’s requirements remains to be seen…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

British Columbia Repeals HST in Voter Referendum

As we have written previously, in 2010, both Ontario and British Columbia entered into agreements with Canada to harmonize the Goods and Services Tax (“GST”) and their Provincial Sales Taxes (“PST”) into a single Harmonized Sales Tax, or “HST.” The HST went into effect July 1, 2010, in both provinces.

But, the HST proved unpopular in British Columbia, and on August 26, a majority of voters in British Columbia passed a referendum aimed at extinguishing the HST and reinstating the PST. The transition back to the PST is expected to take “a minimum of 18 months." The reason for the long transition is that the province must develop and pass legislation and regulations to re-implement the PST and put in place systems to administer it, and the federal government and the province must pass transitional rules to return the province to the GST. Additionally, British Columbia must determine how it will refund to the federal government the $1.6 million provided to the province to aid in its initial transition to the HST.

Monday, September 12, 2011

California Affiliate Nexus Law Repealed (At Least Temporarily) In Deal With Amazon

As we have previously reported, on June 28, California enacted an affiliate nexus law (ABX 1-28). Under the California law, an out-of-state retailer that has contracts with California affiliates to publish online advertisements linking consumers to the retailer’s website would have been required to collect California sales tax (or use tax) on all of its sales to California purchasers, if: (1) the in-state publishers also engaged in solicitation of customers in the state on behalf of the retailer through other means (such as by flyers, telephone calls, or e-mails) targeting California consumers; (2) the publishers of the advertisements were compensated based on sales made by the retailer; (3) over a 12 month period, the retailer realized at least $10,000 in cumulative sales to consumers accessing its site through such online ads; and (4) the retailer had California sales of at least $500,000 during such 12 month period. responded to ABX 1-28 by supporting a campaign to repeal the new affiliate nexus law by citizens’ referendum, which was reportedly well on the way to gathering the necessary signatures to get the repeal measure on the ballot next year.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Performance Marketing Association Suit Challenging Illinois Affiliate Nexus Law Now in State Court

On July 27, the Performance Marketing Association (“PMA”) filed a complaint in the Illinois Circuit Court for Cook County, challenging the new Illinois “affiliate nexus” law (“HB 3659”). In the complaint, the PMA asserts the same claims first raised in its complaint filed in the United States District Court in Chicago on June 1. As detailed in the complaint, the PMA alleges that HB 3659 violates the Commerce Clause and impermissibly discriminates against electronic commerce in violation of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (“ITFA”).

In connection with filing the suit in state court, the PMA has voluntarily dismissed the federal court action.  The voluntary dismissal will prevent a protracted dispute with the Defendant, the Director of the Illinois Department of Revenue, regarding whether the federal court has jurisdiction over the case. Brann & Isaacson attorneys George Isaacson and Matt Schaefer are counsel to the PMA in the case.

Monday, August 22, 2011

After An Earlier Veto, Texas Enacts Nexus-Expanding Legislation In Response To Dispute With Amazon Over Distribution Center

As many readers may be aware, last October, the Texas Comptroller issued a $269 million assessment against for uncollected use tax for the period December 2005 to December 2009. News reports indicated that the assessment was based primarily on the grounds that a related entity, KYDC LLC, operates a distribution center in Irving, Texas (near the Dallas/Forth Worth airport). Amazon disagrees with the assessment, and later sued to obtain the Comptroller’s audit file containing information regarding the basis for the assessment.

July 19 marked the latest volley in the battle between and the State of Texas. Other e-commerce sellers and direct marketers should now ensure that they do not suffer collateral damage.

In response to the contentious dispute that had developed between the State and Amazon, the Texas legislature introduced a number of bills in its 2011 legislative session intended, in effect, to make clear that is obligated to collect and remit Texas use tax. One version of such legislation made its way to Texas Governor Rick Perry in late May, only to be vetoed by the Governor, who has expressed opposition to Amazon nexus legislation. The Texas legislature, however, re-inserted the nexus-expanding language from the bill Perry vetoed into a broad budgetbill, SB 1, which passed in late June.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tax Agencies Should Read the Language of the Statute and May Not Expand the Law’s Requirements

As some of our readers are aware, on June 28, 2011, California’s Governor Brown signed into law a bill (ABX1 28) that provides for “click-through nexus” under certain circumstances. This law is similar to “click-through nexus” legislation adopted in New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Arkansas (which we have written about extensively in the past), inasmuch as it creates a rebuttal presumption of nexus if a company’s annual sales to California exceed $500,000 and if the company’s California sales exceed $10,000 from links or other referrals from companies (“affiliates”) who receive a commission from such referrals.

Unlike the Illinois and Connecticut statutes, which automatically create nexus in the event that sales from affiliates exceed the threshold, the California law provides that the retailer can rebut the determination of nexus based on affiliate relationships. Nevertheless, in a recent notice issued by the California Board of Equalization (Notice L-284, issued July 2011), the Board states that there are only two conditions to a finding that a retailer must be registered for sales and use tax collection: (1) that sales from affiliates exceeded $10,000 in the last 12 months; and (2) that the retailer’s total sales to California exceed $500,000 in the last 12 months. According to the Board, if a business meets the foregoing requirements and is not already registered with the Board, it must complete a “California Certificate of Registration—Use Tax.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bills Introduced in Congress to Override Quill in Favor of Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement

On July 29, 2011, the so-called “Main Street Fairness Act” was introduced in both houses of Congress. The bills, introduced as H.R. 2701 in the House of Representatives and as S. 1452 in the Senate, are identical. Under the proposed law, Member States in the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) would be authorized to require remote sellers (i.e., Internet retailers and other direct marketers with no physical presence in the state) to collect and remit state and local sales and use taxes notwithstanding the substantial nexus standard established by the Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota. There are currently 24 full and associate member states in the SSUTA, representing approximately 36% of the population of the United States. Many larger states, including California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas are not SSUTA members.

Similar bills have been introduced in past sessions of Congress, including in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2010. Brann & Isaacson Senior Partner, George Isaacson, has testified with regard to such prior legislation in 2003, 2006, and 2007 that the SSUTA has not achieved the goal of genuine simplification and uniformity of states sales and use tax systems.  The requirements imposed on states by the current Congressional bills are substantially identical to prior versions and, in some respects, are even less demanding for states. In addition, H.R. 2701 and S. 1452 contain no express minimum level or “small seller” exemption that would protect smaller retailers from the obligation to collect use tax in all member states. Instead the bills defer to small seller exemptions established by the SSUTA states themselves.

We will keep you apprised of further developments regarding the bills.

Friday, July 1, 2011

California Adopts New Nexus Statute

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law California’s new nexus legislation.  The law, which took effect immediately, expands the scope of activities requiring out-of-state retailers to collect and remit California sales and use tax by expanding the definition of “retailer engaged in business” in California.

The newly amended section 6203 of the California Revenue and Tax Code provides that a retailer engaged in business in the State includes any retailer that:
  • has substantial nexus with the State within the meaning of the Commerce Clause;
  • is a member of a commonly controlled group of corporations that includes another member which performs services for the out-of-state retailer in California (including the design and development of TPP sold by the out-of-state retailer or the solicitation of sales on behalf of the out-of-state retailer); or
  • enters into an agreement under which a person in California refers potential customers to the out-of-state retailer via the internet or other means in exchange for a commission or other consideration.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Connecticut Amends Its Affiliate Nexus Law To Mirror Illinois

We have written frequently in recent months about affiliate nexus legislation introduced this legislative session in a number of states, and enacted recently in Illinois, Arkansas, Connecticut and, on a deferred basis (to take effect only after 15 states have adopted similar legislation) Vermont. (A similar bill has been passed in California, but has not yet been signed by Governor Brown.) Nearly every such bill has closely paralleled the affiliate nexus law adopted in New York in 2008, which provides for a presumption of nexus that can be rebutted by a retailer if the retailer can establish that its in-state affiliates have not engaged in any active solicitation in the state, but have merely posted online advertisements on behalf of the retailer that link to the retailer’s website. Illinois was the only state to adopt a law without such a rebuttable presumption.

The Connecticut legislature has now amended the affiliate nexus statute it passed in May 2011, to eliminate the rebuttable presumption and, instead, to closely mirror the Illinois law. Connecticut HB 6652, signed by Governor Malloy on June 21, repeals the affiliate nexus statute adopted in May, and instead modifies the definition of “retailer” (as well as the definition of “engaged in business in the state”) to classify as a Connecticut retailer any company that has affiliate relationships with persons in Connecticut pursuant to which the affiliates refer customers to the retailer in return for commissions or other consideration based on sales, via an online link or otherwise. The retailer must realize cumulative gross receipts of at least $2,000 on sales to Connecticut customers as a result of such referrals in order to be “engaged in business in the state.” In addition, HB 6652 makes the change in the definitions of “retailer” and “engaged in business” retroactive to May 4, 2011 – prior to the date on which the previously enacted affiliate nexus law was even adopted.

It warrants mention that the Connecticut legislature amended its affiliate nexus statute after the Performance Marketing Association filed suit in federal court in Chicago challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois law. Brann & Isaacson represents the PMA in that action.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Lone Star State Follows a Different Path Regarding Nexus

Bucking the trend of other states, Texas’ Governor recently vetoed proposed legislation to expand the scope of the Texas sales and use tax law regarding collection of sales and use tax. The proposed legislation—HB 2403—was approved by both houses of the Texas legislature, but vetoed by Governor Perry on May 31. This legislation was not as aggressive as that in other states that have recently adopted nexus legislation. (Illinois, Connecticut, Arkansas and Vermont are examples). It merely provided that a retailer has nexus with Texas if it has an affiliated company that operates a distribution center in Texas or if an affiliated company located in Texas performs services on behalf of the retailer or sells under the same brand name as the retailer. This was in part directed at the Amazon situation in which an affiliate of operated a distribution center in the state of Texas (that reportedly led to a $269 million assessment of sales tax by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts).

A piece of good news for sellers of digital goods does result from the legislature’s work on the bill. The legislation, as introduced, also provided that use by a remote seller of a website on a server in Texas from which digital goods are sold or delivered creates nexus. However, the House Committee that first reviewed the bill removed the language before submitting the bill to the full House for a vote. This may signify that such activity does not create nexus in Texas. But, before embarking on any such activity in Texas, a seller of digital products should examine carefully the Texas law and applicable constitutional cases in light of the proposed sales activity.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Performance Marketing Association Files Lawsuit Challenging Illinois Affiliate Nexus Law

Performance Marketing Association, Inc. (“the PMA”), the leading trade association in the United States representing the interests of businesses, organizations, and individuals using and supporting performance marketing methods, filed a lawsuit yesterday in Federal District Court in Chicago against the Director of the Illinois Department of Revenue, Brian A. Hamer. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the Illinois affiliate nexus law, HB 3659Brann & Isaacson attorneys George Isaacson and Matthew Schaefer are counsel to the PMA in connection with the suit.

The case is captioned Performance Marketing Association, Inc. v. Hamer, Federal District Court, Northern District of Illinois, case no. 1:11-cv-03690. A copy of the PMA’s Complaint is available here.

In its complaint, the PMA asserts that HB 3659 unlawfully targets the business of online performance marketing in order to expand Illinois’ regulatory authority beyond its borders. We have previously written about HB 3659 several times, including here and here. The PMA alleges that the law, which goes into effect July 1, 2011, violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, and the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act (“ITFA”), by using the relationships between Illinois publishers of online advertisements and out-of-state advertisers as grounds for imposing use tax collection and reporting obligations on Internet retailers located outside the state. The enactment HB 3659 has damaged thousands of Illinois publishers through the loss of advertising contracts with Internet retailers.

Friday, May 27, 2011

May News Roundup: Michigan Repeals MBT; Louisiana Proposes Click-Through Nexus Legislation

On Wednesday, Governor Snyder signed into law Michigan’s new corporate income tax, which will replace the Michigan Business Tax. The new corporate income tax, effective January 1, 2012, uses a single factor (sales) for apportionment purposes and has a flat rate of 6%. However, despite the repeal of the MBT, the new corporate income tax will retain the economic nexus standard of $350,000 in gross receipts, which we have written about previously here. Any business with a physical presence of at least one day in the state would also be required to report the corporate income tax. Unlike the MBT, however, P.L.86-272 applies to the tax and provides some protections, as we have most recently written about here. Internet sellers and direct marketers should consult their tax counsel regarding the significance of the new tax and its impact on their businesses.

In other news, this week, the Louisiana legislature threw its hat into the ring of states proposing click-through nexus laws with H.B. 641. We have written previously about nexus-expanding legislation throughout the country here and here. Although Vermont and Texas legislatures recently passed their own versions of the law, as of this writing, the governor in each state has yet to sign the bill. We will keep you posted as developments arise.

Have a safe and festive Memorial Day, all!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Another State Adopts Nexus Click Through Legislation

Following the model of New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Arkansas laws, Connecticut recently adopted click-through nexus legislation that is effective on July 1, 2011. The new law states that any retailer that has an agreement with a Connecticut resident, under which the resident, for a commission or otherwise, refers potential customers (by a web site link or other contact) to the retailer, is presumed to have nexus with Connecticut if its sales as a result of such agreements in Connecticut exceed $2,000 for the preceding year. As is the case in the four states described above, the presumption can be rebutted by proof that the residents do not undertake in-state solicitation activities that would create nexus under the constitutional standard.

The Connecticut statute differs from the statutes enacted in New York and other states, in that the threshold for sales is a lower amount–$2,000 as opposed to $10,000 (or $5,000 in the case of Rhode Island). It also differs from the recently-enacted Illinois statute inasmuch as the Illinois statute does not permit a retailer to rebut a finding of nexus that is based upon a relationship with an affiliate located in Illinois that provides a link to a retailer’s Internet site that facilitates the sale of tangible personal property.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Colorado Federal Court to Consider Possible Final Judgment on DMA’s Constitutional Challenge to the Colorado Notice and Reporting Law in DMA v. Huber

This post is to update our readers regarding the status of the Direct Marketing Association’s challenge to the constitutionality of Colorado HB 10-1193, the law enacted in 2010 that imposes discriminatory notice and reporting obligations on out-of-state retailers that do not collect Colorado sales tax. Brann & Isaacson attorneys George Isaacson and Matt Schaefer are counsel to the DMA in the case

In January 2011, the federal District Court for the District of Colorado granted the DMA’ s motion for a preliminary injunction and suspended enforcement of the law on the grounds that it likely violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution on two separate, and independent grounds. In February, the Defendant appealed to the Tenth Circuit, but subsequently withdrew the appeal after the District Court approved a proposal by the parties to file cross-motions for summary judgment seeking a final ruling by the Court on the Commerce Clause issues, while staying further proceedings on all other claims in the case. The District Court agreed that, if it awards summary judgment to either party, it will certify the matter for immediate appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, so that the Commerce Clause issues may be finally resolved.

Each party filed a motion for summary judgment with the District Court on May 6. Responses are due May 27, and replies are due June 10. A ruling by the Court on the motions, and likely an appeal to the Tenth Circuit, will follow. We will continue to update readers with further developments.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

States on the Warpath

In the last few months, three states (Illinois, Arkansas and South Dakota) have enacted “nexus expanding” legislation effective on July 1, 2011. Other states are considering adopting such legislation. The legislation falls into three categories: (1) click-through nexus; (2) reporting obligations; and (3) “affiliate” or “attributional nexus.”

We have previously written about the Illinois click-through nexus law (here and here), which we believe is unconstitutional since it purports to establish nexus (with no opportunity to rebut the determination) for any retailer that contracts with a person “located in Illinois” who receives a commission from the retailer based on sales of goods facilitated by a link from the person to the retailer’s web site. We will not describe here the details as to why the statute is unconstitutional, other than to note that mere national advertising, which is what the click-through represents, has never been deemed to create nexus, as pointed out in the Quill v. North Dakota case. In addition, online retailers should carefully review the Illinois statute and its requirements before deciding whether it applies to them.

The other recently-adopted nexus click-through legislation is the Arkansas law, which, unlike the Illinois statute, creates only a presumption of nexus that can be rebutted by a showing that the person maintaining the web site that provides a link does not engage in solicitation on behalf of the retailer. The statute is modeled after the New York statute, and it is possible for a retailer to structure its program with its Arkansas affiliates so as not to be subject to Arkansas sales tax collection obligations.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Introduced in Congress

The introduction of the so-called Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights by Senators Kerry and McCain on April 12, 2011 suggests that we may be about to enter an era of robust regulation of information gathering regarding the online browsing and shopping habits of consumers. This type of data has come to be an important tool for online marketers to improve the efficiency of online advertising buys, and to improve other marketing techniques. At a minimum, this development presents a risk that online merchants will need to build out substantial new technical infrastructure to accommodate a welter of new rules under this bill. Beyond that, it may make it difficult even for highly respected and responsible merchants to engage in marketing activities that are an important part of their tool kit in the information age.

Among other things, the bill contains the following requirements:
  • Collectors of information must implement security measures to protect the information they collect and maintain.
  • Collectors of information must provide clear notice to individuals of the collection practices and the purposes of such collection. Additionally, collectors must provide the ability for an individual to opt out of any information collection that is unauthorized by the Act and to provide affirmative consent (opt-in) for the collection of sensitive personally identifiable information. Respecting companies’ existing relationships with customers and the ability to develop a relationship with a potential customers, the bill would require "robust and clear" notice to an individual of his or her ability to opt-out of the collection of information for the purpose of transferring it to third parties for behavioral advertising. It would also require collectors to provide individuals either the ability to access and correct their information, or to request cessation of its use and distribution.
  • Collectors must bind third parties by contract to ensure that any individual information transferred to the third party by the collector will only be used or maintained in accordance with the bill’s requirements. The bill requires the collector to attempt to establish and maintain reasonable procedures to ensure that information is accurate.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Update to eMarketers: Canada’s FISA Broader than US’s CAN-SPAM Act

Last late year, Canada enacted the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act (FISA).  The framework established by FISA is fundamentally different from the United States’s CAN-SPAM Act.  First, while CAN-SPAM applies only to commercial email, FISA applies to any form of electronic message sent for marketing purposes (referred to as a “Commercial Electronic Message,” or “CEM”), including: email; SMS; instant messaging; and social media/networking. U.S. regulations have not to this point targeted communications with customers across social media.

Second, and perhaps more significantly from the standpoint of most U.S. firms, FISA requires affirmative consent from a potential recipient of a message before marketers can send a CEM.  This feature of the law stands in sharp contrast to CAN-SPAM, which permits at least “one free shot” at a recipient, provided that the message itself is CAN-SPAM compliant (ie. the message includes opt-out instructions, clearly identifies the sender, identifies itself as commercial email, etc.).

Accordingly, U.S. companies now will need to differentiate their approach to marketing to Canadian customers from their approach to marketing to U.S. customers in order to ensure compliance with both the Canadian and U.S. statutes.  Commonly utilized techniques for acquiring contact information, such as list rental, if used to market to Canadian customers, now have the potential to expose marketers to a violation of FISA.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Illinois Governor Signs "Amazon" Affiliate Nexus Law

On March 10, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law HB 3659, the affiliate nexus bill passed by the legislature in January. Quinn's signing makes Illinois the fourth state (along with New York, Rhode Island, and North Carolina) to enact such a law. The Illinois bill provides that once an out-of-state Internet retailer realizes $10,000 in receipts from sales made to customers linked to the retailer's website from the websites of its Illinois affiliates, the retailer will be deemed to be a “retailer having or maintaining a place of business in this State” and be obligated to collect and remit tax on all of its sales to Illinois consumers.

In response, promptly informed its Illinois affiliates that it is terminating its relationships with them. Look for further developments in the coming days.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

DMA v. Huber Update: Huber Appeals to Tenth Circuit

As we reported in January, the Direct Marketing Association (the "DMA") recently won a landmark preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against the State of Colorado.  The preliminary injunction prohibits the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue from enforcing Colorado’s new notice and reporting law, H.B. 10-1193, which would require out-of-state direct marketers and online sellers who do not collect Colorado sales and use taxes to inform Colorado purchasers of their obligation to self-report tax and to provide Colorado customers summaries of their purchases, and also would require sellers to report specific customer purchase information to the State.  As we wrote previously, the Court, in granting the preliminary injunction, found that the requirements of H.B. 10-1193 likely both violated the Commerce Clause and would cause irreparable harm to out-of-state retailers if enforced

On February 25, the Defendant filed an interlocutory appeal of the District Court’s order granting the preliminary injunction, seeking review of the injunction by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  It will likely be six to nine months before the Tenth Circuit issues its ruling in the matter, but we will keep you updated as developments arise.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Additional States Introduce Affiliate-Nexus Legislation

On March 2, an Internet-affiliate nexus bill was introduced in the Arkansas State Senate (SB 738). Arkansas joins Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont, as the thirteenth state this legislative season to consider such a measure. Nearly all of the bills -- with the exception of Illinois’s HB 3659, which was passed by the Illinois legislature and is now awaiting signature or veto by Governor Quinn, and Connecticut’s SB 5545 -- are patterned directly upon the New York affiliate nexus law enacted in 2008 and challenged in court, so far unsuccessfully, by In other words, 11 of the 13 proposed laws create a rebuttable presumption that an out-of-state Internet retailer is obligated to collect and remit the state’s sales and use taxes if the retailer enters into an agreement with an in-state resident (an “affiliate”) pursuant to which the affiliate places a link from the affiliate’s website to the retailer’s site, and the retailer realizes at least $10,000 in sales to customers referred to it by the affiliate’s links. The presumption can be negated by proof that the in-state affiliates did not engage in any in-state solicitation on behalf of the retailer.

In its November 2010 ruling, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court found that the ability of a retailer to rebut the presumption of solicitation was an important factor in determining that the New York law is not unconstitutional on its face. The Court, however, remanded the case for further proceedings on the issue of whether the law violates the Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause as applied to specifically to Amazon. As the ongoing proceedings in the New York case make clear, the constitutionality of such “New York-style” affiliate-nexus legislation is far from resolved.

At the same time, it is worth noting that the Illinois and Connecticut bills differ from the New York law in that neither bill provides that the presumption that a retailer must collect sales and use tax as a result of having in-state Internet affiliates may be rebutted. Imposing an irrebuttable presumption of nexus is highly suspect under both the Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause. Without a rebuttable presumption in place to protect retailers, Illinois and Connecticut would subject Internet retailers to burdensome state tax collection obligations when the retailers are effectively doing nothing more than advertising. For that reason, the progress of each of these bills bears watching. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

D.C. Circuit Cites Quill as Instructive in Analyzing the Due Process Ramifications of a National Tax Scheme

The Supreme Court’s analysis in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992) has been cited favorably again, this time with regard to a Due Process challenge to a federal statute. On February 18, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the denial of a motion for a preliminary injunction brought by a plaintiff challenging the constitutionality of a federal law regulating online sales of tobacco products, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Gordon v. Holder, 2011 WL559002 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 18, 2011). Previewing the issues to be addressed by the District Court on remand, the Court of Appeals cited Quill as “instructive” in analyzing the plaintiff’s claim that the federal statute violates the Due Process Clause.

In a statement likely to send shivers up the spines of the members of the Governing Board of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement and other advocates for federal legislation to override Quill’s “physical presence” requirement arising under the Commerce Clause, the D.C. Circuit commented that “there remains an open question whether a national authorization of disparate state levies on e-commerce renders concerns about presence and burden obsolete” as a matter of Due Process. Id. at *4 (emphasis added). While this statement, and the Court’s opinion, does not alter the analysis under Quill of the constitutionality of state tax (and tax-related) laws under the Commerce Clause, it suggests that the concerns about “presence and burden” presented in Quill are potentially also relevant to determining whether a federal law authorizing state tax levies is consistent with the Due Process Clause.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arbitration Clauses, Class Actions and State Tax

What a funny combination of terms. You might be asking what state tax has to do with arbitration and class action suits. Two recent court decisions illustrate the connection.

In particular, a “bad day” for a corporate executive is receiving the complaint and summons for a class action lawsuit. While there have been fewer class action lawsuits in connection with state taxes than there have been in other areas of the law, the plaintiff’s bar has looked at state tax as a development opportunity and has commenced suits for inappropriate collection of state taxes. The basis commonly used for such a suit is that the state’s unfair and deceptive trade practices statute is violated by the collection of sales tax if such tax is not due. For example, a company might be collecting tax on food in a state in which food is not taxable. A better example would be collecting tax on Internet access, which is prohibited under a federal statute, the Internet Tax Freedom Act, 47 U.S.C. § 151n (1998) (“ITFA”), as amended, unless a state is grandfathered.

AT&T found out the hard way about class action lawsuits in the state tax area. It was collecting tax on Internet access services. Under the ITFA, it was prohibited from collecting such tax in all but a few states. Thus, as I wrote in my blog post of September 17, 2010, AT&T was slammed with a class action lawsuit, and settled for payment of millions of dollars of attorneys’ fees and other costs.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Maine Introduces Modified, Colorado-Style Notice and Reporting Law, Which Also Likely Violates The Commerce Clause

On February 9, 2011, the Maine Legislature introduced a bill (LD 469) which would impose upon certain out-of-state retailers a set of notice and reporting obligations that closely parallel the requirements of Colorado’s 2010 law, H.B. 10-1193. Enforcement of H.B. 10-1193 was recently enjoined by a federal judge in Denver on the grounds that such requirements are likely unconstitutional and in violation of the Commerce Clause. As we have reported in prior posts, Brann & Isaacson represents the Direct Marketing Association in the federal court challenge to the now-suspended Colorado law, after which the Maine bill is patterned.

Maine’s LD 469 includes all three of the Colorado law’s notice and reporting requirements – retailers must provide the Transactional Notice, Annual Purchase Summaries to customers, and Customer Information Reports to revenue officials – and would impose penalties on affected retailers for non-compliance with the law.  Notably, however, unlike the Colorado law, the Maine bill includes no $500 annual minimum purchase threshold to trigger the requirement that an affected retailer must send a customer an Annual Purchase Summary. Similar to Colorado’s law, under LD 469 such annual summaries to customers must include, if available, “[d]escriptions of items purchased,” as well as dates and amounts.  Also in contrast to Colorado, the report to Maine Revenue Services must include all of the information provided to each purchaser in the annual summary – thereby requiring that at least descriptions of the items purchased by customers of an affected out-of-state retailer be turned over to Maine Revenue Services. The Maine bill thus raises even more significant privacy concerns for Maine consumers buying from affected retailers than does the privacy-invading Colorado law.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Reminder About The State Tax Implications of Passive Partnership Interests: U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Review State Court Ruling That Mere Partnership Interest Creates Income Tax Nexus

E-commerce companies that have affiliates doing business as (or even just investment interests in) partnerships or other pass-through entities in states in which the e-commerce company has no direct presence should be aware that such partnership interests may be deemed to create income tax nexus for the company.  A number of state laws and regulations provide that ownership in a pass-through entity establishes nexus for the owner.  See, e.g., 34 TAC Sec. 3.586(c)(13) [Texas]; 830 CMR 63.39.1(8) [Massachusetts]. To date, state tax tribunals have agreed. See, e.g., Shell Gas Gathering Corp. #2, N.Y. Tax Appeals Tribunal, DTA Nos. 821569 and 921570 (Sept. 23, 2010).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

DMA Wins Landmark Injunction Against State of Colorado

On behalf of the Direct Marketing Association, Brann & Isaacson partners George Isaacson and Matthew Schaefer won a landmark preliminary injunction in federal court in a lawsuit that affects thousands of direct marketers across the country. The ruling prohibits the State of Colorado from enforcing its controversial new law, H.B. 10-1193, that required direct marketers to -- among other things -- report to the state the names, addresses, and purchase amounts of their customers.

To be clear, so long as the injunction remains in place, out-of-state retailers that do not have nexus with Colorado and do not collect Colorado sales tax are no longer required to: (1) give notice to their Colorado customers, in connection with each sale, that the customer must report Colorado use tax (the “Transactional Notice”); (2) send via First Class mail by January 31, to each customer that purchased more than $500 of goods for delivery to Colorado during 2010, a summary of their purchases for the year (the “Annual Purchase Summary”); or (3) submit a report to the Colorado Department of Revenue, by March 1, listing the name, billing and shipping addresses, and total amount of purchases of all customers who purchased goods for delivery to Colorado (the “Customer Information Report”).  See

The DMA argued that the law violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution by (a) imposing discriminatory obligations upon out-of-state retailers that do not apply to in-state Colorado retailers, and (b) unduly burdening interstate commerce under principles set forth by the Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992). The Court accepted these arguments in finding that the DMA had a likelihood of success on both Commerce Clause counts, and concluded that out-of-state retailers subject to the new law would suffer irreparable harm if enforcement of the statute is not barred.

The preliminary injunction entered by the Court does not end the case, but it effectively suspends the law while the litigation continues and until the Court makes a final ruling regarding the law’s constitutionality.

You can read a copy of the order here.

Read previous posts about the lawsuit here and here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

DMA’s Constitutional Challenge to Colorado’s Notice and Reporting Law Will Be Argued In Federal District Court on January 13

A happy new year to our readers. Many internet and catalog retailers have been following with interest the constitutional challenge of the Direct Marketing Association (“DMA”) to Colorado’s new notice and reporting law, H.B. 10-1193, enacted in 2010. In addition to burdensome consumer notice requirements that went into effect last year, the law requires out-of-state retailers that do not collect Colorado sales and use tax to send (by January 31, 2011) annual purchase summaries to customers purchasing $500 or more of goods for shipment to Colorado and, worst of all, to file (by March 1, 2011) with the Colorado Department of Revenue a listing of all of the retailer’s customers who have purchased goods for shipment to a Colorado location, regardless of where the customer resides.

As we previously reported (see our July 2, 2010 post), the DMA contends that the Colorado law violates multiple provisions of the United States Constitution, because it discriminates against interstate commerce, exceeds the State’s regulatory authority over out-of-state businesses, violates the privacy rights of Colorado consumers, infringes the free speech and due process rights of retailers and consumers, and deprives retailers of their valuable customer list information without due process or fair compensation. The DMA has filed a motion for preliminary injunction based on the law’s violations of the Commerce Clause, asking the Court to suspend enforcement of the law’s notice and reporting requirements pending a full adjudication of the law’s constitutionality.

The federal District Court for the District of Colorado has scheduled a hearing on the DMA’s motion to be held on January 13, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. in Denver. B&I senior partner and lead counsel for the DMA, George Isaacson, will argue the motion on behalf of the DMA. We will report on further developments after the hearing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Distribution of Promotional Materials in Indiana is Not Taxable

In D.H. Holmes Company, Ltd. v. McNamara, 486 U.S. 24 (1988), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a state did not violate the Commerce Clause when it imposed a use tax on the distribution of catalogs and other promotional materials mailed from outside of the state since the company on whose behalf the catalogs were distributed had nexus with the state. Prior to that date, there were some state courts and tax commentators which had declared that a destination state’s imposition of tax on catalogs printed and mailed from outside of the state to residents of the state violated the Commerce Clause.

As a result of the D.H. Holmes decision, a large number of states have imposed a use tax on promotional materials distributed in their state on behalf of a company with nexus in the state (e.g. Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee).  There have been some exceptions to this rule (See e.g., Michigan (Sharper Image Corp. v. Department of Treasury, 550 N.W.2d 596 (1996)), New York, Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania).

Recently, the Indiana Tax Court ruled in the case of AOL, LLC v. Indiana Department of State Revenue that the distribution of CD ROMs and other marketing materials on behalf of AOL by AOL’s printer and assembly house was not taxable. The basis for the decision was that AOL had supplied the components—the CD ROM discs, paper, and other components of CD ROM packages—to the assembly house and printer. Thus, the assembly house and printer were merely providing a service, and not selling tangible personal property. Under the Indiana statute, the provision of services is not taxable. It is only the sale of tangible personal property that is taxable. Nor were the components themselves taxable because only the final CD ROM package and printed materials were distributed in Indiana. The components were transformed by the assembly houses and printers into final products.

This decision is in line with prior decisions of the Indiana Tax Court, including Ameritech Publ’g, Inc. v. Ind. Dep’t of State Revenue, 916 N.E.2d 752 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2009) and Morton Bldgs., Inc. v. Ind. Dep’t of State Revenue, 819 N.E.2d 913 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2004).  Thus, any direct marketer which has been distributing promotional materials in Indiana and paying use tax on those promotional materials should consider filing a claim for refund for taxes paid if the direct marketer supplied the underlying raw materials to the printer or other party assembling the promotional materials.