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Supreme Court rules AOL required to pay online use taxes

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The Indiana Supreme Court has held that companies purchasing online promotional materials from outside the state must pay a use tax when those materials are distributed within Indiana.

In Indiana Department of State Revenue v. AOL, LLC, No. 49S10-1108-TA-514, the court unanimously reversed a decision by former Indiana Tax Court Judge Tom Fisher.

The case involves online service provider AOL that mailed software and promotional materials to new and prospective clients. AOL didn’t physically manufacturer the CD or final promotional packages, but contracted with third-party vendors outside Indiana to produce and assemble the individual components and final packages. None of the out-of-state vendors paid sales or use taxes on the CD packages or promotional materials, and once completed the final packages were sent to customers throughout the United States, including Indiana.

AOL paid use taxes to the Indiana Department of Revenue between January 2003 and June 2007, based on the number of CD packages and promotional materials sent to prospective Indiana customers. In 2006 and 2007 AOL asked for two refunds totaling $371,464 for use taxes it had paid. After an investigation, the state agency denied both requests and AOL appealed. The Tax Court reversed the department’s determinations in 2011, finding the company owned all the raw materials provided and had not purchased any tangible personal property in a retail transaction with the out-of-state providers.

The revenue department argued that AOL purchased the CD packages and promotional materials in retail transactions and later used them in Indiana, while AOL argued it did not acquire those items in any retail transaction because it merely purchased the assembly and printing services.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote that the heart of this case turns on provisions of Indiana Code 6-2.5-4-1, specifically, I.C. 6-2.5-4-1(b)’s use of the phrase “that property” which the chief justice said suggests that a retailer must acquire tangible personal property and then transfer that same property to a purchaser for either sales or use taxes to apply. The following provision (c)(1) goes on to say that “for the purposes of determining what constitutes selling at retail, it does not matter whether… the property is transferred in the same form as when it was acquired.”

The chief justice wrote that given the tension between the phrase “that property” and I.C. 6-2.5-4-1(c)(1), the court believes the sole purpose of I.C. 6-2.5-4-1(c)(1) is to prevent a person from arguing that a merchant was not selling at retail merely because the merchant changed the form of the property between acquiring it and transferring it.

Finding that the materials were being sold at retail, the court determined the transactions between AOL and its assembly houses and letter shops constituted retail transactions that triggered Indiana’s use tax once AOL used that property in Indiana.


 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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