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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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com. 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.

 

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  • 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 like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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