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By William Kolarik

The New Jersey Tax Court’s opinion in Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Director, Division of Taxation, Dkt. No. 010589-2010 (Tax Ct. of N.J. February 6, 2017) highlights the potential constitutional concerns related to the application of Louisiana’s recently enacted throw-out rule.

On June 28, 2016, Louisiana Governor Edwards signed H.B. 20 (Act 8) (effective June 28, 2016) into law. In addition to changing the apportionment rules for certain industries and enacting market-based sourcing for sales of services, Act 8 also contains a throw-out rule. Specifically, Act 8 amends the Louisiana apportionment rules to provide that “[i]f the taxpayer is not taxable in a state to which a sale is assigned or if the state of assignment cannot be determined or reasonably approximated pursuant to [the Louisiana apportionment rules contained in La. R.S. 47:287.95 and its related regulations], the sale shall be excluded from the numerator and the denominator of the sales factor.”[1] The throw-out rule applies to all taxable periods beginning on or after January 1, 2016.

A throw-out rule is an, oftentimes controversial, alternative to a “throw-back” rule. A throw-back rule is a rule that sources a taxpayer’s sales that are not taxable in the state of destination to the state of origin. From a policy perspective, the proponents of throw-back rules assert that it is appropriate to redistribute non-taxed sales to the state of origin because the state of origin is ostensibly connected to the non-taxed sales in some manner. In contrast, a throw-out rule redistributes income derived from sales made to a state where a taxpayer is not subject to tax to another state where a taxpayer is subject to tax by removing the non-taxable sales from both the numerator and the denominator of the taxpayer’s sales factor. The proponents of throw-out rules justify the rule by asserting that a taxpayer’s entire taxable income should be subject to state income tax. As Elan Pharmaceuticals and its related cases demonstrate, a throw-out rule becomes problematic and raises constitutional concerns when a tax administrator attempts to apply the rule in a manner that taxes income earned in another state that the other state’s legislature has jurisdiction to tax but chooses not to tax.

Elan Pharmaceuticals is the latest in a series of New Jersey cases in which the New Jersey Courts prohibited the New Jersey Division of Taxation (the “Division”) from applying New Jersey’s, now repealed, throw-out rule in an unconstitutional manner. Elan Pharmaceuticals (“Elan”), the taxpayer, was a Delaware company headquartered in California. Elan had property in 39 states, inventory in seven states, and payroll in 48 states. Elan only filed tax returns in six states because the other states in which it did business chose not to tax Elan’s in-state business activity. In at least 17 of the states in which Elan did not file a corporate income tax return, Elan was not subject to state income tax by virtue of Public Law 86-272 (“PL 86-272”), a federal law that prohibits a state from levying a state income tax if a taxpayer limits its in-state business activity to the solicitation of sales orders that are accepted and filled from inventory located outside the state.[2]

On audit, the Division applied New Jersey’s throw-out rule to reduce the denominator of Elan’s sales factor to include only amounts included in the sales factor numerators of the six states in which Elan reported a sales factor numerator. Elan challenged the Division’s application of the throw-out rule and asserted that the exclusion of receipts from its sales factor denominator was arbitrary and improper because it excluded receipts that were (1) allocable to other states where Elan was taxable pursuant to a throw-back rule; or (2) allocable to states where Elan stored its inventory, an activity which is a constitutional basis for asserting nexus; and (3) allocable to California, where Elan was headquartered. In contrast, the Division asserted that its application of the throw-out rule was proper because it excluded receipts from states that lacked jurisdiction to tax due to PL 86-272.

The court began its analysis by explaining that the Division’s arguments overlooked the substance of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Whirlpool Properties Inc. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 208 N.J. 141 (2011). In Whirlpool, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that New Jersey’s throw-out rule was constitutional as applied only “when the category of receipts that may be thrown out is limited to receipts that are not taxed by another state because the taxpayer does not have the requisite constitutional contacts with the state or because of congressional action such as P.L. 86–272.”[3] In contrast, the throw-out rule violated the dormant Commerce Clause when it excluded receipts that were not taxed by another state because the state chooses not to impose an income tax.[4] Citing Lorillard Licensing Co. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 28 N.J. Tax 590 (Tax 2014), in which the Superior Court of New Jersey held that the phrase “subject to tax” under Whirlpool applied in the context of economic nexus, the court emphasized that the test for determining whether the throw-out rule was constitutionally applied is whether a taxpayer has the requisite constitutional contacts with a state to be subject to the state’s taxing jurisdiction. According to the court, the possibility that PL 86-272 was implicated did not foreclose the limitations on the application of the throw-out rule because PL 86-272 does not bar an origin state from taxing the income generated from sales of goods to a destination state that cannot tax the income.

After explaining the constitutional limitations that applied to the application of New Jersey’s throw-out rule, the court explored the extent to which the states where Elan did not file tax returns had the ability to tax Elan’s operations. The court noted that an origin state had the authority to tax Elan’s sales from that state via a throw-back rule and that several states where Elan did business had throw-back rules. Therefore, the Division could not isolate application of the throw-out rule to New Jersey and deny that other origin states could tax Elan’s sales via a throw-back rule. Next, the court rejected the Division’s contention that Delaware’s choice not to impose an income tax required a conclusion that Elan’s sales of goods shipped from Delaware be removed from Elan’s sales factor denominator. In addition, the court also explained that an origin state or a destination state could impose a business-presence based corporate tax on Elan as long as the state had a basis to assert nexus over Elan, such as Elan’s storage of inventory, ownership of property, or payroll in the state. Because other states could constitutionally tax Elan’s sales, the court reversed the Division’s determination that only receipts reported to six states could be included in Elan’s sales factor denominator.

Louisiana Implications

The Louisiana Department of Revenue (the “Department”) has not issued guidance regarding how it intends to apply Louisiana’s throw-out rule. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the limitations on the application of a throw-out rule described in the New Jersey cases are constitutional limitations that apply to the application of any throw-out rule by any state, including Louisiana. A taxpayer preparing its 2016 Louisiana corporation income tax return should carefully consider the extent to which the Louisiana throw-out rule applies to its out-of-state business activity in states where it does not file a corporate income tax return. When considering how the Louisiana throw-out rule applies, a taxpayer should give extra scrutiny to any state that has the ability to levy a tax on its sales but that chooses not to do so, e.g., an origin state in which a taxpayer stores inventory that does not adopt a throw-back rule. In addition, a Louisiana taxpayer affected by the throw-out rule should carefully scrutinize any guidance issued by the Department that purports to apply the throw-out rule to sales in destination states that have the ability to levy a tax on the taxpayer.

For additional information, please contact: Christopher J. Dicharry at (225) 382-3492, Jaye Calhoun at (504) 293-5936, or Willie Kolarik at (225) 382-3441.

[1] La. R.S. § 47:287.95(M).

[2] 15 U.S. Code § 381.

[3] Whirlpool Prop. Inc. v. Director, Div. of Taxation, 208 N.J. 141, 172 (2011)

[4] Id. at 172-173.