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. 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

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

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  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.