Supreme Court Rules Retailer Physical Presence No Longer Required For States to Tax Sales in Wayfair Decision

In a highly anticipated decision issued today, the Supreme Court overruled decades of its own precedent and held that states can require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit sales tax proceeds, even if the business has no physical presence in the state.  The Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, No. 17-494 (2018), could have a significant impact on retailers who sell goods or services through the internet, as states rush to enact legislation forcing online sellers to collect and remit sales tax for transactions within those states.

The case was a challenge by Wayfair and other on-line retailers to a South Dakota law requiring large out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax as if the seller had a physical presence in the state.  In two previous cases – National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Ill., 386 U.S. 753 (1967) and Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992) the Supreme Court had ruled that states could not require sellers to collect and remit sales taxes if they had no physical presence in the state.  In those situations, states were forced to rely on their residents to voluntarily pay sales tax owed on purchases.  The Court noted that consumer compliance is as low as 4%, causing states to lose as much as $33 billion in combined sales tax revenue every year.

Referring to the “internet revolution” and the modern dynamics of the national economy, Justice Kennedy writing for a majority of the Court overruled Bellas Hess and Quill, finding that the rule in those cases amounted to a judicially-created tax shelter for businesses with no physical presence in a state.  The Court noted that modern e-commerce does not analytically align with a test based on the physical location of brick-and-mortar stores.  Instead of the physical location test, the Court concluded, to be subject to a state’s tax, there must be a “substantial nexus” between the state and the taxed activity.  Just how substantial a nexus remains to be seen and will likely result in future litigation.

The dissenting opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, agreed that the Court’s older decisions were wrong, but contended that Congress, not the Court, should fix the problem and determine the extent to which states may burden interstate sellers with the duty to collect sales or use taxes.

For more information on the implications of Wayfair, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Director of the firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group at keinhorn@genovaburns.com, or Jennifer Borek, Esq., a Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group at jborek@genovaburns.com.

Share

Supreme Court Paves the Way to Sports Wagering

In a victory for states’ rights and sports fans looking to cash in on their insight, the Supreme Court ruled today in favor of allowing states to determine whether to legalize sports wagering in Murphy v. NCAA.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act’s (“PASPA”) prohibition of state authorization of sports wagering violated the Tenth Amendment’s anti-commandeering doctrine, saying that the provision “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do… A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”  Justice Alito then refuted the respondents’ preemption arguments on the grounds that the Constitution “confers upon Congress the power to regulate individuals, not States,” and PASPA’s prohibition on state authorization can, in no way, be understood as a prohibition on individuals.  Finally, the Court determined that offending portion of PASPA is not severable from the rest of PASPA and, therefore, the entire statute is struck down.

Justice Thomas concurred with the opinion but expressed his concern regarding the Court’s method in determining the severability of offending sections of a statute.  Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion that Congress was within its authority to prohibit sports wagering since the activity substantially affects interstate commerce, and even if the prohibition is unconstitutional, it is severable from the law and PASPA should still stand.  Justice Breyer concurred in part with the majority decision that PASPA’s prohibition of state authorization of sports wagering was unconstitutional, but he agreed with Justice Ginsburg in that the provision is severable from the rest of the statute.

Does this mean you can start wagering on MLB games and the NHL playoffs?  Since the Court reversed the Third Circuit’s decision regarding the State’s 2014 sports wagering law, casinos and racetrack may engage in sports wagering, and each individual venue is left to craft their own regulation.  However, the casinos and racetracks are now waiting for the State Legislature to create a regulatory framework.  Legislation was introduced recently that will do just that (Assembly Bill No. 3911 was introduced on May 7, and Senate Bill No. 2602 was introduced today).  Senate President Stephen Sweeney said that the Senate intends to move quickly on sports wagering and anticipates passage by early June.

For more information about the potential impacts of this ruling or what steps you can take to effectively leverage same, please contact Nicholas R. Amato, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Casino & Gaming Law Practice Group, at namato@genovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.

Share