Simon sues state over Amazon sales tax exemption

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A Marion Superior lawsuit is accusing Indiana of violating the state constitution by not collecting sales taxes from Inc.

On behalf of Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc., law firm Cohen & Malad filed the suit Thursday against the Indiana Department of Revenue in an attempt to force the state to collect sales taxes from the online operations. The mall powerhouse claims the state's "illegal and unconstitutional" decision to exempt Amazon from sales-tax collection gives the giant online retailer "an unfair advantage in the market."

Specifically, the suit asks the court to mandate that the state’s revenue department issue an assessment to Amazon for unpaid gross retail taxes and use taxes, as well as interest and penalties. One of the counts alleges not collecting those taxes amounts to a violation of Article 1, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution that prohibits disparate treatment of citizens – in this case, Amazon’s online operations here versus the other merchants required to pay the taxes.

“Defendants have failed and refused to comply with their statutory duties to issue such assessments, despite demand,” the suit says. “Their failure, without legislative authority, illegally and unconstitutionally exempts Amazon from the obligations to collect Indiana Gross Retail Tax and Use Tax, despite the fact that Amazon sells hundreds of millions of dollars of taxable goods to Indiana residents with many of those sales taking place wholly within Indiana every year.”

The suit cites a study by professors at the University of Tennessee that estimates Indiana will forego about $195 million in revenue in 2012 alone by failing to compel out-of-state retailers like Amazon to collect sales taxes.

Simon earlier had requested that the state begin collecting sales taxes on purchases made from within the state's boundaries on Online retailers typically are required to collect sales taxes on purchases from within states where they have a physical presence, but Indiana has not forced the issue with Amazon.

The decision by Indiana officials to take a kid-glove approach was an important factor in Amazon's decision to open four local distribution centers that employ thousands of Hoosiers. Of course, traditional retailers employ many thousands more.

Amazon has faced pressure in most of the states where it operates to collect sales tax, particularly as state coffers dried up during the recession. Some states have been hit with lawsuits, as well as threats that distribution centers would be removed from those locations.

To help lure Amazon to Indiana, the state in 2007 repealed a law requiring companies that didn’t maintain a place of business in the state — but had affiliated locations — to get a retail merchant’s certificate, subjecting them to the same tax-collection duties as brick-and-mortar shops. Amazon now has three distribution centers in the state and has announced plans to open a fourth.

Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration — as well as Amazon officials — have advocated a federal solution to address the issue. Key fiscal leader Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has been at the forefront of efforts to get a federal law requiring online sales-tax collections. Kenley, who spent two days in Washington, D.C., this week discussing the matter with federal lawmakers, is among those who are hopeful the issue could get traction in Congress this year.

Both House and Senate bills have been filed, and a bipartisan group of senators, including Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, intend to introduce a bill on the issue early next week, Kenley said. They’re also tentatively planning a Nov. 30 hearing on the issue.

Kenley said Friday that he’s not inclined to support a state solution, which Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, said he intends to introduce during the next legislative session. Broden had tried to insert a similar measure into the budget bill during the 2010 session.

Aside from what happens at the state legislative and Congressional levels, the issue could ultimately play out in courtrooms and pave the way for the Supreme Court of the United States to revisit this sales tax issue as it involves online operations. In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992), the court held that a business must have a physical presence in a state for that state to require it to collect sales tax. Although it didn’t specifically address the Internet at that time, the holding effectively has barred states from collecting sales taxes from most online operations.



  • interesting story and suit
    I dont see any standing, first off. How does any one person have standing to sue over tax collection policy that is an executive function. Also: people dont just avoid malls now because of the sales tax issue, they avoid them because they are symbols of reckless capitalist over development of former farmlands that now are reduced to concrete lots and cheap but gaudy dens of commodity idolatry. A little bit of sales tax wont slow the malls decline.

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  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise