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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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