louisiana

By Linda Akchin and Chris Dicharry

INTRODUCTION

Louisiana law imposes a sales tax on “sales at retail.”  “Sale at retail” is defined in the sales tax law, and the definition provides that the term does not include “sales of materials for further processing into tangible personal property for sale at retail.”    This provision is commonly referred to as the “further processing exclusion.”[1]  The most recent Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision interpreting this “further processing exclusion,” Bridges v. Nelson Indus. Steam Co., 2015-1439 (La. 5/3/16), 190 So.3d 276 (the “NISCO decision”), recently became final.  The decision is significant for all taxpayer-manufacturers.  It provides an excellent explanation of applicable legal principles relating generally to interpretation of the further processing exclusion and a comprehensive explanation of the three-prong jurisprudential test for application of the exclusion.  In response to the NISCO decision, and before it became final, the Legislature passed an Act amending the further processing exclusion.[2]  The purpose of this writing is to (i) provide some general information regarding applicable rules of law to be gleaned from the NISCO decision; and (ii) identify questions arising from the recent legislative amendment to the law.

THE SUPREME COURT DECISION

The further processing provision applies to byproducts.

The NISCO decision is the first in which the Supreme Court directly addresses the question of whether the further processing exclusion from tax applies to purchases of materials that are further processed into a byproduct of a manufacturing process.  The Supreme Court held that it does.  Noting that the exclusion applies to “tangible personal property,” and the sales tax regulation interpreting the exclusion provides that whether materials are further processed or simply used in the processing activity will depend entirely upon an analysis of the “end product,” the court reasoned that it found nothing in the law that requires the “end product” be the enterprise’s primary product, explaining:

“The plain language of the statute makes the exclusion applicable to articles of tangible personal property.  There simply is no distinction between primary products and secondary products. . . . At the end of the day, the ash [NISCO’s byproduct] is produced and sold . . . making it an ‘article of tangible personal property for sale at retail.’”[3]

The NISCO decision applies and interprets the long-established three-pronged test for application of the exclusion.

The Court applied the jurisprudentially-established three-pronged test for application of the further processing exclusion as it related to NISCO’s ash byproduct:  The test is:

(1) the raw materials become recognizable and identifiable components of the end products;

(2) the raw materials are beneficial to the end products; and

(3) the raw materials are materials for further processing, and as such, are purchased with the purpose of inclusion in the end products.[4]

In applying the test the Court clarifies and reinforces aspects of the application of the test that all taxpayers would be well-served to keep in mind.   Those clarifications include:

(1)       The further processing provision constitutes an “exclusion” not an “exemption” from tax, and as such, must be liberally construed in favor of the taxpayer;[5]

(2)       When the material purchased is processed into less than all of the end products produced, the analysis involves only consideration of the end product(s) into which the material is further processed, without regard to other end products.[6]

(3)       In order to satisfy the “benefit” prong of the test it is not necessary to conduct tests to determine the qualities of the material purchased or its beneficial impact on the end product.  It is sufficient that elemental components of the material purchased become integral components of the molecular makeup of the end product.  That “integration” is in and of itself of some benefit to the end product.[7]

(4)       The “purpose” prong of the test does not involve a primary purpose test; and the “purpose” test involves a “manufacturing purpose” inquiry, not a “business purpose” or “economic purpose” inquiry.  Only the manufacturing process and the physical and chemical components and the materials involved in the process are germane to the “purpose” test.[8]

(5)       There is no legal basis for an “apportionment” approach to the further processing exclusion, whether based upon the percentage of the material or some assigned value of the components that actually end up in the end product, and any such approach is impractical in application.[9]

The New Law

The 2016 Legislative amendment, effective June 23, 2016, amends the law to provide that “[t]he term ‘sale at retail’ does  not include sale of materials for further processing into articles of tangible personal property for sale at retail when all of the criteria in Subsubitem (I) of this Section are met.[10]  Those criteria consist of a re-statement of the three-pronged test:  (1) the raw materials become a recognizable and identifiable component of the end product; (2) the raw materials are beneficial to the end product; and (3) the raw materials are material for further process, and as such are purchased for the purpose of inclusion into the end product.

The amendment goes further, however, and adds a “Subitem II” to the definition of “sale at retail.”  This addition represents new law and provides, in short, that “[i]f the materials are further processed into a byproduct for sale, such purchases of materials shall not be deemed to be sales for further processing and shall be taxable.”  The term “byproduct” is defined to mean “any incidental product that is sold for a sales price less than the cost of the materials.”

QUESTIONS CREATED BY THE NEW LAW

Did the Legislature intend to overrule the NISCO decision?

The first question that arises is whether the clarifications to the three-prong jurisprudential test that are set forth in the NISCO decision may be applied under the amended law’s verbatim codification of the three-prong jurisprudential test.  It is a well-accepted rule of statutory construction that those who enact statutory provisions are presumed to act deliberately and with full knowledge of existing laws on the same subject, with awareness of court cases and well-established principles of statutory construction, with knowledge of the effect of their acts and a purpose in view; and that when the Legislature changes the wording of a statute, it is presumed to have intended a change in the law. [11]  Thus, legislative language will be interpreted based upon assumption that the Legislature was aware of judicial decisions interpreting those statutes, including among others, the NISCO decision.[12]  Because the amended law adopts the three-prong judicial test verbatim, we believe a strong argument may be made that there is no legislative intent to vary from the Supreme Court’s interpretations of that test, except to the extent the language of the amended law expressly varies from the Supreme Court’s prior interpretations.  The Legislature has never hesitated to expressly state its intent to legislatively overrule a Louisiana Supreme Court decision, when that is indeed its intent.  Here, no express statement of such intent was made, and we do not believe that the Louisiana Supreme Court will infer intent to overrule any aspect of the NISCO decision, except to the extent the language of the amendment is inconsistent with the court’s interpretation in NISCO.

What constitutes a “byproduct” for purposes of the new law?

In cases where a product is sold for a sales price less than the cost of its materials, questions will likely arise as to whether the product is an “incidental product.”  Because the term “incidental product” is not statutorily defined by the legislature, we must give the words their commonly-accepted meaning.  The word “incidental” means “being likely to ensue as a chance or minor consequence,” or “occurring merely by chance or without intention or calculation.”[13]  Many products sold for a sales price less than the cost of their materials are intentionally manufactured and sold.  They are not manufactured by accident; and they are not the result of chance.  Instead, a conscious decision is made to choose a process design that will in fact create certain byproducts, with the intention to sell all the products of the process – both “primary products” and “byproducts,” with an overall profit motive.  While any particular byproduct may be of minor consequence economically speaking, when viewed in a vacuum, it may not be of economic “minor consequence” to the overall finances of the taxpayer; or it may not be of minor consequence in terms of volumes manufactured and sold, or investment made to develop, manufacture, market and sell the byproduct.  In our opinion, the Legislature’s amendment – a clear intent to vary from the NISCO decision’s holding that the further processing exclusion applies to all end products – merely creates more uncertainty, resulting in many more sales and use tax disputes and consequent litigation.  The taxing authorities will undoubtedly argue that the intent of the amendment was to create a rule to be applied when a byproduct, viewed in a vacuum, is not profitable; but that is not what the Legislature said.  The Legislature adopted a rule to be applied to “incidental products,” without defining that term.  Thus, we believe a proper interpretation requires that a determination must first be made regarding whether the byproduct is an “incidental product;” and only if it is an incidental product, does the second part of the “test” – whether it is sold for a sales price less than the cost of its material – apply.

May the new law be applied retroactively?

Taxpayers may expect the taxing authorities to impose the new law going forward.  Serious questions arise, however, regarding the applicability of the new law to taxes already reported and paid, or incurred, before the new law became effective.

The new law expressly provides that it “shall not be applicable to any existing claim for refund filed or assessment of additional taxes due issued prior to the effective date of this Act for any tax period prior to July 1, 2016, which is not barred by prescription.”  If a taxpayer’s claim or dispute with the taxing authority falls within the language of this provision, the new law should not be applied by the taxing authorities.  It is not clear what is meant by the terminology “claim for refund filed.”  Does it mean the submission of a refund request or claim with the taxing authority, or a suit for refund, or both?  Likewise, it is not clear what is meant by “assessment of additional taxes due issued” – does it include notices of intent to assess (“proposed assessments”), notices of assessment (“final assessments”), petitions for redetermination of assessments, or suits to collect tax, or all four.  We recommend that taxpayers apply the most liberal interpretation of the language unless and until guidance is provided by regulation or judicial decision.

There will undoubtedly be cases in which no claim for refund has been filed or assessment issued before the effective date of the act, but involving tax periods prior to July 1, 2016.  In such cases, we believe a strong argument may be made that retroactive application of the new law to pre-amendment tax periods is unconstitutional.  The Legislature stated in the Act that it “is intended to clarify and be interpretive of the original intent and application of” the further processing exclusion, and that “[t]herefore, the provisions of this Act shall be retroactive and applicable to all refund claims submitted or assessments of additional tax due which are filed on or after the effective date of this Act.”  Despite this statement by the legislature, we believe that the amendment to the law is not merely clarifying and interpretive.  We believe the changes are substantive in nature.  Generally, substantive laws may be applied prospectively only.  And despite express legislative intent to the contrary, it is uniquely the province of the courts to determine if an Act is substantive, or merely clarifying and interpretive.  And, if the law is substantive, it will not be applied retroactively by the courts because to do so impinges upon the authority of the judiciary in violation of the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers and divests taxpayers of substantive rights and causes of action that accrued and vested in the taxpayer before the effective date of the Act, such that imposition of the new law would constitute a denial of due process.[14]

Was the amendment to the law constitutionally enacted?

In the case of an attempt by a taxing authority to apply the new law retroactively to pre-amendment tax periods, or in the case of a purely prospective application of the new law to post-amendment tax periods, a question still exists regarding the constitutionality of the law’s enactment.  The Louisiana Constitution provides that enactments levying a new tax or increasing an existing tax require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature to become law.[15]  Here, the Act at issue did not have a two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives.  A viable legal argument exists that because the law amends definitions in a manner that makes previously non-taxable transactions taxable, it constitutes either a “new tax” or an “increase in an existing tax,” thus requiring a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature. [16]  Unless and until this issue is resolved in the courts, a taxpayer would be wise to seek legal counsel and consider its options before voluntarily paying tax on materials purchased for further processing into a byproduct.

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[1] La. R.S. 47:301(10)(c)(i)(aa), before amendment effective June 23, 2016; see La. Act No. 3 (2nd Extra. Sess. 2016) (“Act 3 of 2016”).

[2] Act 3 of 2016, supra.

[3] NISCO, pp. 8-9, 190 So.3d at 282.

[4] Id. at pp. 7-8, 190 So.3d at 281, quoting International Paper, Inc. v. Bridges, 2007-1151, p. 19 (La. 1/16/08), 972 So.2d 1121, 1134.

[5] Id. at pp. 5-6, 190 So.3d at 280-281.

[6] Id. at pp. 7-9, 190 So.3d at 281-282.

[7] Id. at pp. 9-10, 190 So.3d at 282-283.

[8] Id. at pp. 4, 10-13, 190 So.3d at 279, 283-285/

[9] Id. at pp. 13-15, 190 So.3d at 285-286.

[10] Act 3 of 2016, supra (emphasis added)

[11] Borel v. Young, 2007-0419, pp. 8-9 (La. 11/2/07), 989 So.2d 42, 48 (emphasis added).

[12] State v. Campbell, 2003-3035, pp. 8-9 (La. 7/6/04), 877 So.2d 112, 118.

[13] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed. 2012) (emphasis added).

[14] See e.g. Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc. v. Kennedy, 2004-1089 (La. 6/29/05), 914 So.2d 533); Unwired Telecom Corp. v. Parish of Calcasieu, 2003-0732 (La. 1/19/05), 903 So.2d 392; and Bourgeois v. A.P. Green Indus., Inc., 2000-1528 (La. 4/3/01), 783 So.2d 1251; La. Const. Art. II, §§1-2; La. Const. art. I, §2; U.S. Const. Amend. XIV, §1.

[15] La. Const. Art. VII, §2.

[16] See e.g. Dow Hydrocarbons & Resources v. Kennedy, 1996-2471 (La. 5/20/97), 694 So.2d 215.