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On April 3, 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue issued a directive with economic nexus provisions for out-of-state internet sellers. It adopts an administrative bright line rule, instead of applying sales and use tax collection requirements on a case by case basis. Per the directive, an internet seller with a principal place of business located outside the state is required to register, collect and remit Massachusetts sales or use tax on sales into the state as follows:

 

  • For the period of July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017, if during the preceding 12 months (July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017), it had in excess of $500,000 in Massachusetts sales and made sales for delivery into Massachusetts in 100 or more transactions.
  • For each calendar year beginning with 2018, if during the preceding calendar year it had in excess of $500,000 in Massachusetts sales and made sales for delivery into Massachusetts in 100 or more transactions. 

 

The directive discusses Quill Corp. v. North Dakota and states that internet sellers with significant Massachusetts sales meets the statutory and constitutional standards that apply for purposes of the imposition of the commonwealth’s sales or use tax collection duty. In its discussion of what constitutes substantial physical presence under the Commerce Clause, the Directive distinguishes Large Internet Vendors from mail order vendors.  Specifically, it considers software, apps and cookies that are typically used by internet sellers to be tangible personal property owned by the seller as substantial physical presence in the state.  In addition, they consider Content Distribution Networks (CDN) providers that may be located in the state of Massachusetts to be performing local activities “on behalf of the vendor that are significantly associated with the vendor’s ability to establish and maintain a market” for its sales. When that activity takes place in Massachusetts it establishes an instate physical presence on behalf of such vendor.

 

Large Internet vendors may also utilize other persons as instate representatives that result in the creation of an instate physical presence. For example, large Internet vendors commonly sell goods through “online marketplaces.”  These online marketplaces, which offer a range of potential services through employees or other contract personnel, benefit the client/vendor by, among other things, enhancing its name recognition and creating consumer confidence with respect to its products. These arrangements may vary in form. Many of these agreements allow the Internet vendor to post goods for sale on a website operated by the online marketplace, with orders and payment then processed through that website (with subsequent order fulfillment completed by the individual Internet vendor). Other agreements may provide for increased services by the employees or other personnel of the online marketplace, which may include order fulfillment, return processing, access to the online marketplace’s customer service team, and the preparation of sales reports or other analytics. In either instance, although the website maintained by the online marketplace on which the vendor’s products are sold is “virtual,” some of the various services provided by the online marketplace in connection with the sale of the vendor’s products will be physical in nature.  Because these latter, physical services operate to establish and maintain the Internet vendor’s market, these services, when performed in the state, will result in an Instate physical presence on the part of such vendor. 

 

Also, large Internet vendors may utilize delivery services that exceed the type of delivery services that were evaluated by Quill. Quill held that a state could not impose a sales or use tax collection duty on vendors that limit their contacts with the state to the contacts of mail and common carrier. In contrast, large Internet vendors may utilize delivery services that provide not merely product delivery, but additional services that may include logistics, order fulfillment, storage, return processing and order management. In general, these additional services operate to enhance the vendor’s sales. Therefore, these services, when performed in the state, will result in an instate physical presence on the part of such vendor. 

 

This is an expansive definition of substantial physical presence defined not through the legislative process but through a Department of Revenue Directive.  The Department is making this a prospective position.  It is very likely this will be challenged as economic nexus provisions in other states.  We will monitor and update this news items with developments. (Directive 17-1: Requirement that Out-of-State Internet Vendors with Significant Massachusetts Sales Must Collect Sales or Use Tax, April 3, 2017)

 

UPDATE:The trade associations NetChoice and American Catalog Mailers Association have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the enforcement of Directive 17-1. NetChoice and the American Catalog Mailers Association are challenging the directive as being in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Quill v. North Dakota. They also claim that the directive is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and is barred by the Internet Tax Freedom Act. We will continue to monitor for developments. (American Catalog Mailers Association and NetChoice v. Michael J. Heffernan, in his capacity as the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue)

 

UPDATE: On June 28, 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue issued Directive 17-2, which revokes Directive 17-1: Requirement that Out-of-State Internet Vendors with Significant Massachusetts Sales Must Collect Sales or Use Tax, effective immediately. The Department of Revenue anticipates proposing regulations which would require large Internet vendors to collect Massachusetts sales and use tax on a prospective basis under standards similar to those in Directive 17-1.  The regulatory proposal will be based upon legal rationale similar to that in Directive 17-1. (Directive 17-2: Revocation of DD 17-1 In Anticipation of a Proposed Regulation)

(07/11/2017)

On July 28, 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue issued a proposed regulation with economic nexus provisions which would take effect October 1, 2017. A public hearing on the proposed regulation is scheduled for August 24, 2017.  The proposed regulation is similar to a previous economic nexus directive issued by the state, which was revoked on June 28, 2017

 

Massachusetts has taken an alternative approach to the pure economic nexus approaches used by other states.  Rather, they are proposing that certain activities engaged in my internet vendors do meet the substantial physical presence standard due to the ownership and use of property in the state. 

 

Per the proposed regulation, an internet vendor with a principal place of business located outside the state that is not otherwise subject to tax is required to register, collect and remit Massachusetts sales or use tax with respect to its Massachusetts sales as follows:

 

  • For the period beginning October 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017, if during the preceding 12 months (October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017) it had in excess of $500,000 in Massachusetts sales from transactions completed over the Internet and made sales resulting in a delivery into Massachusetts in 100 or more transactions.
  • For each calendar year beginning with 2018, if during the preceding calendar year it had in excess of $500,000 in Massachusetts sales from transactions completed over the Internet and made sales resulting in a delivery into Massachusetts in 100 or more transactions.

 

An internet vendor is defined as “a vendor that derives sales from transactions consummated over the Internet, whether such transactions are (1) completed on a website maintained or operated by the vendor itself, or a website maintained or operated by a related person or a person with which the vendor contracts, including a marketplace facilitator and/or (2) fulfilled by a related person or a person with which the vendor contracts.”

 

The proposed regulation states that the $500,000/100 transaction test only applies to an internet vendor whose only physical presence in Massachusetts is through property interests in and/or the use of in-state software and ancillary data (“cookies”) which are distributed to or stored on the computers or other devices of the vendor’s in-state customers; contracts and/or other relationships with content distribution networks (CDNs); and/or through contracts and/or other relationships with online marketplace facilitators and/or delivery companies resulting in in-state services, including, but not limited to, payment processing and order fulfillment, order management, return processing or otherwise assisting with returns and exchanges, the preparation of sales reports or other analytics and consumer access to customer service.

 

However, internet and non-internet vendors with other contacts including the presence in the state of inventory or a contract with an in-state representative other than as described above has always established nexus and the $500,000/100 transaction rule does not apply.  Nexus is established at the time these activities and contacts began.

 

The proposed regulation also contains language stating that it does not violate the Internet Tax Freedom Act. It states that the regulation is non-discriminatory to e-commerce transactions because it asserts jurisdiction over all vendors (Internet or non-Internet) who have the contacts identified in the legislation and applies the same jurisdictional standards to all vendors (Internet or non-Internet) that are otherwise subject to tax. We will monitor and update this news items with developments. (Proposed 830 CMR 64H.1.7: Vendors Making Internet Sales)

(08/09/2017)

The Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) has announced a sales/use tax and income/franchise tax amnesty program for online sellers that will run from August 17 to November 1, 2017 (previously October 17, 2017). Qualified online sellers with potential tax liability may be able to use the MTC's voluntary disclosure agreement (VDA) to negotiate a settlement during the amnesty period if they meet certain eligibility requirements. Taxpayers that have not been contacted by any of the states participating in the amnesty program will be able to apply to start remitting sales tax on future sales without penalty or liability for unpaid, prior accumulated sales tax in the participating states. 25 MTC member states have agreed to participate in the amnesty program. The participating states include: 

 

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado (sales/use tax only)
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia (may not waive all prior periods)
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts (special provisions apply)
  • Minnesota (special provisions apply)
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska (may not waive all prior periods)
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas 
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin (will require payment of back tax and interest for a lookback period commencing January 1, 2015 for sales/use tax, and including the prior tax years of 2015 and 2016 for income/franchise tax)

 

Some of the additional states may require a limited look-back period for prior tax liabilities. Sellers who wish to participate in the program will need to file the voluntary disclosure program paperwork during the program dates. The MTC will route the paperwork for each participating state for which the seller is seeking amnesty protection. For more details visit the MTC website.

 

UPDATE: The Multistate Tax Commission's online seller amnesty program is now over. If you didn't take advantage of this program but realize you need to evaluate your activities, you can contact us here.

(11/07/2017)

On June 12, 2017, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017. A previous version of this bill had been introduced in 2016 and failed to pass. Under the proposed bill, a State may tax or regulate a person’s activity in interstate commerce only when such person is physically present in the State during the period in which the tax or regulation is imposed. Under the proposed bill, the physical presencerequirement would apply to sales and use taxand net income and other business activities taxes, as well as the states’ ability to regulateinterstate commerce. “Physical presence” in a state includes:

 

  • maintaining a commercial or legal domicile in the state;
  • owning, holding a leasehold interest in, or maintaining real property such as an office, retail store, warehouse, distribution center, manufacturing operation, or assembly facility in the state;
  • leasing or owning tangible personal property (other than computer software) of more than de minimis value in the state;
  • having one or more employees, agents or independent contractors present in the state who provide on-site design, installation, or repair services on behalf of the remote seller;
  • having one or more employees, exclusive agents or exclusive independent contractors present in the state who engage in activities that substantially assist the person to establish or maintain a market in the state; or
  • regularly employing in the state three or more employees for any purpose.

 

“Physical presence” in a state would not include:

 

  • entering into an agreement under which a person, for a commission or other consideration, directly or indirectly refers potential purchasers to a person outside the state, whether by an Internet-based link or platform, Internet Web site or otherwise;
  • any presence in a state for less than 15 days in a taxable year (or a greater number of days if provided by state law);
  • product placement, setup or other services offered in connection with delivery of products by an interstate or in-state carrier or other service provider;
  • Internet advertising services provided by in-state residents which are not exclusively directed towards, or do not solicit exclusively, in-state customers;
  • ownership by a person outside the state of an interest in a limited liability company or similar entity organized or with a physical presence in the state;
  • the furnishing of information to customers or affiliates in such state, or the coverage of events or other gathering of information in such state by such person, or his representative, which information is used or disseminated from a point outside the state; or
  • business activities directly relating to such person's potential or actual purchase of goods or services within the State if the final decision to purchase is made outside the state.

 

In addition, the bill prohibits the imposition or assessment of a sales, use or other similar tax or a reporting requirement unless the purchaser or seller has physical presence in the state.  This would prohibit all the remote seller legislation (click through, affiliate, economic, marketplace and reporting/notification). If enacted, the legislation would apply with respect to calendar quarters beginning on or after January 1, 2018. (No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017)

(07/12/2017)

On April 27, 2017, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2017 (MFA). Similar legislation was introduced in both 2013 and 2015 and failed to be enacted both times. If enacted, the legislation would authorize states meeting certain requirements to require remote sellers that do not meet a "small seller exception" to collect their state and local sales and use taxes. The small seller exception is set again at $1 million of remote sales annually. The only other significant change from the 2015 version is a prohibition of making the effective date during the 4th quarter of the calendar year. For information on the previous versions of the bill, visit Senate Introduces Marketplace Fairness Act of 2015.  

 

On April 27, 2017, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA) of 2017. Similar legislation was introduced in 2015 but failed to be enacted. Like the MFA, the legislation would also create sales and use tax collection obligations for remote sellers, but has some differences and additional provisions. Some key differences from the Marketplace Fairness Act include a different definition of a small seller.  The RTPA has a phased in threshold starting at $10million in year one, then $5million, then $1million.  In year 4, there is no threshold.  In addition to the monetary thresholds, any seller that sells on an electronic marketplace is considered a small seller.  A difference from the 2015 version of the bill is an inclusion of a definition of remote seller which specifies when a company is NOT a remote seller which includes physical presences for more than 15 days in a state, leasing or owning real property and using an agent to establish or maintain the market in a state if the agent does not perform business services in the state for any other person during the taxable year.  For more information on the Remote Transaction Parity Act of 2015, visit House Introduces Remote Transactions Parity Act of 2015. (Marketplace Fairness Act of 2017, Remote Transactions Parity Act of 2017)

(05/04/2017)

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