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Government Files Its Brief in Auer Deference Case

As we discussed in a prior post and in our article for Law360, the Supreme Court is poised to decide in Kisor v. Wilkie whether to overrule the Auer deference doctrine. This doctrine, which originated in the 1945 Seminole Rock case, generally affords controlling deference to an agency’s interpretation of its own ambiguous regulations. To date, the petitioner has filed its brief, several amici have filed briefs and the government has filed its brief (links to these documents can be found here). Argument is currently scheduled for March 27, 2019, and an opinion is anticipated by the end of June 2019.

The government’s brief, filed on February 25, 2019, acknowledges that Auer deference raises serious concerns. Specifically, the government states that the basis for the doctrine is unclear, the doctrine is in tension with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and overly broad deference to agency interpretations can have harmful practical consequences. However, relying on principles of stare decisis, the government advocates for maintaining Auer deference subject to certain prerequisites that would limit the doctrine. These prerequisites include applying deference only after all traditional tools of construction have been exhausted and only if the agency’s interpretation has reasonably interpreted any ambiguity. In deciding whether to defer to the agency’s interpretation, a reviewing court should look at whether the interpretation: (1) was issued with fair notice to regulated parties, (2) is not inconsistent with the agency’s prior views, (3) rests on the agency’s expertise and (4) represents the agency’s considered view (i.e., not merely the views of “mere field officials or other low-level employees”). Presumably these limits would curtail the application of Auer deference in circumstances where the agency’s interpretation is first widely known only because of a litigating position.

Practice Point: The Supreme Court’s decision in Kisor v. Wilkie will be important for taxpayers and their representatives in light of the substantial regulatory guidance issued in the wake of tax reform. We will continue to follow this case and provide updates after argument is held and the case is decided.




News of Wayfair Decision Breaks during Tax in the City® New York

The first New York meeting of McDermott’s Tax in the City® initiative in 2018 coincided with the June 21 issuance of the US Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) highly anticipated Wayfair decision. Just before our meeting, SCOTUS issued its opinion determining that remote sellers that do not have a physical presence in a state can be required to collect sales tax on sales to customers in that state. McDermott SALT partner Diann Smith relayed the decision and its impact on online retailers to a captivated audience. Click here to read McDermott’s insight about the decision.

The event also featured a CLE/CPE presentation on the ethical considerations relative to tax reform by Kristen Hazel, Jane May and Maureen O’Brien, followed by a roundtable discussion on recent tax reform insights led by Britt Haxton, Sandra McGill, Kathleen Quinn and Diann Smith. Below are a few takeaways from last week’s Tax in the City® New York:

  • Supreme Court Update: Wayfair – Jurisdiction to Tax – The 5-4 opinion concluded that the physical presence requirement established by the Court in its 1967 National Bellas Hess decision and reaffirmed in 1992’s Quill is “unsound and incorrect” and that “stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power.” This opinion will have an immediate and significant impact on sales and use tax collection obligations across the country and is something every company and state must immediately and carefully evaluate within the context of existing state and local collection authority. Click here to read McDermott’s insight about the decision.
  • Tax Reform: Ethical Considerations – Because of tax reform, taxpayers face increased uncertainty and will likely face increased IRS/state scrutiny for their 2017 and 2018 returns. Therefore, it’s crucial for taxpayers to be intentional about post-reform planning and compliance by coordinating among various departments (federal tax, state and local tax, employee benefits, treasury, operations, etc.). Taxpayers should understand the weight of various IRS and state revenue authority guidance, the IRS’s authority to issue retroactive regulations within 18 months of passing legislation, and how to take reasonable positions in the absence of guidance. They should also understand that the IRS is allowed more than three years to assess tax, even when there is an omission of global intangible low taxed income (GILTI) or when the tax relates to the Section 965 transition tax.
  • Tax Reform Changes to Employee Compensation and Benefit Deductions – Post-tax reform, all employees of US public companies, private companies with US publicly traded debt, and foreign issuers with ADRs traded on the US market are covered employees subject to the $1 million limit for deductible compensation. Though a grandfather rule applies if existing contracts are not materially modified, key questions about how to apply this rule remain. Tax reform eliminated the employer deduction for transportation subsidies (other than bicycle subsidies). It also reduced employers’ ability to deduct meal and entertainment expenses, and removed employers’ and employees’ ability to deduct moving expenses.
  • False Claims Act and Starbucks – False Claims Act actions involving state tax issues are becoming more and more [...]

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US Supreme Court Overrules Quill

On June 21, 2018, the US Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., et al., No. 17-494. The 5-4 opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and concluded that the physical presence requirement established by the Court in its 1967 National Bellas Hess decision and reaffirmed in 1992 in Quill is “unsound and incorrect” and that “stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power.” This opinion will have an immediate and significant impact on sales and use tax collection obligations across the country and is something every company and state must immediately and carefully evaluate within the context of existing state and local collection authority.

Summary of Opinions

The majority opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and was joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito and Gorsuch. In reaching the conclusion that the physical presence rule is an incorrect interpretation of the dormant Commerce Clause, the opinion states that the Quill physical presence rule: (1) is flawed on its own terms because it is not a necessary interpretation of the Complete Auto nexus requirement, creates market distortions and imposes an arbitrary and formalistic standard as opposed to the case-by-case analysis favored by Commerce Clause precedents; (2) is artificial in its entirety and not just at its edges; and (3) is an extraordinary imposition by the Judiciary. The majority went on to conclude that stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power, noting that “[i]t is inconsistent with this Court’s proper role to ask Congress to address a false constitutional premise of this Court’s own creation.” The majority noted that the South Dakota law “affords small merchants a reasonable degree of protection” and “other aspects of the Court’s [dormant] Commerce Clause doctrine can protect against any undue burden on interstate commerce.” The majority opinion specifically notes that “the potential for such issues to arise in some later case cannot justify an artificial, anachronistic rule that deprives States of vast revenues from major businesses.” Finally, the majority decision provides that in the absence of Quill and Bellas Hess, the first prong of Complete Auto simply asks whether the tax applies to an activity with substantial nexus with the taxing State and that here, “the nexus is clearly sufficient.” Specifically, the South Dakota law only applies to sellers that deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the State or engage in 200 or more separate transactions, which “could not have occurred unless the seller availed itself of the substantial privilege of carrying on business in South Dakota.” With respect to other principles in the Court’s dormant Commerce Clause doctrine that may invalid the South Dakota law, the majority held that “the Court need not resolve them here.” However, the majority opinion does note that South Dakota appears to have features built into its law that are “designed to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens upon interstate commerce” [...]

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Circuit Courts Agree Timely Filing Requirement for a Tax Court Petition is Jurisdictional

Arguably the most important aspect of litigating a case in the Tax Court or in a refund forum is the timely filing of the petition or complaint.  Absent timely filing, the court may not have jurisdiction and the case could be dismissed without the court ever reaching the substantive issues.  On January 13, 2017, the Seventh Circuit joined several other circuit courts in confirming that the time for filing a petition in Tax Court is jurisdictional, not a claims processing rule.

In Tilden v. Commissioner, No. 15-3838 (available here), the taxpayer’s petition was mailed on the last day of the 90-day filing deadline.  It was not stamped and bore no postmark; instead, a USPS print-at-home postage label was attached by legal staff, and it was delivered to the post office the same day.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) argued this was insufficient for timelymailing under the “mailbox rule” of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7502.  The Tax Court disagreed with both parties about what section of the regulations applied, and used the date the envelope was entered into the postal service’s tracking system as the date of postmark and filing—which was two days late.  Thus, the Tax Court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction (available here).

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit raised sua sponte the issue of whether the filing deadline for a Tax Court petition is jurisdictional or a claims processing rule.  The proper characterization of the filing deadline is extremely important.  If the deadline is considered jurisdictional, then late filing automatically precludes the taxpayer from seeking relief in the Tax Court.  But, the taxpayer may still pay the tax due, file a claim for refund with the IRS, and file a complaint in a refund forum (if the IRS denies or fails to timely act on the claim).  On the other hand, if the deadline is a claims processing rule, the taxpayer’s options may be limited.  Although the taxpayer that files a late petition might be able to demonstrate that the Tax Court should hear its case, if the court were to determine that the petition was untimely, it arguably would be required under the Code to enter a decision on the merits for the IRS, rather than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.  That result eliminates the alternative refund forum.

In Tilden, the Seventh Circuit considered the Supreme Court’s current approach in non-tax cases for determining whether deadlines are jurisdictional or claims processing rules, but decided that the language of the relevant statute and the body of Tax Court and circuit court precedent compelled a finding that the 90-day deadline is jurisdictional.  Finding it “imprudent to reject that body of precedent” under principles of stare decisis, the Seventh Circuit followed the Tax Court and other circuit court precedent.  The Seventh Circuit further disagreed with the Tax Court’s holding on the relevant postmark regulations to conclude that the petition was timely filed.

Practice Point: The Seventh Circuit’s opinion is a good reminder as to the [...]

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