Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tax Profs' Brief in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl

Brief of Interested Law Professors in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl (10th Circuit) (Joseph Bankman (Stanford), Jordan Barry (San Diego), Barbara Fried (Stanford), Alan Morrison (George Washington), Darien Shanske (UC-Davis), Kirk Stark (UCLA), John Swain (Arizona) & Dennis Ventry (UC-Davis)):

This case, Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, was recently remanded by the U.S. Supreme Court to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit then requested a full supplemental briefing; amici law professors submitted this brief.

Like all states with a sales tax, Colorado faced – and faces – a voluntary compliance problem with the collection of its use tax. The use tax is a complement to the sales tax; in-state vendors collect and remit the sales tax, while in-state consumers are responsible for remitting the use tax on purchases made from out-of-state vendors that do not collect the sales tax. To this compliance challenge, Colorado turned to a third-party reporting solution. In broad strokes, the Colorado Statute imposes a modest requirement on one party to a taxable transaction – specifically on relatively large retailers who do not collect the use tax - to report information on their Colorado sales both to the consumer/taxpayer and to the taxing authorities.

Amici make three specific arguments.


First, amici demonstrate that third-party reporting of tax information is a ubiquitous and longstanding feature of modern tax systems. When tax authorities rely on taxpayers to self-report their taxable activities, compliance rates for the collection of any tax is low. Therefore, from the broader perspective of tax collection theory and history, including the history of very similar transaction-based taxes that attempt to tax consumption, the Colorado Statute is an unexceptional response to an otherwise intractable problem.

Second, amici argue that the Supreme Court’s decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992), does not apply to the statute at issue in this case. Quill imposed a bright-line physical presence test as a precondition for a state to impose a use tax collection obligation on a retailer. Because of its own self-limiting language and logic, not to mention greatly changed circumstances, the rule of Quill should not be extended into a new area.

Third, amici argue that, because sales and use taxes constitute a unified system, there is no discrimination simply because differently situated retailers are required to aid in the collection of what is essentially a single tax in different ways.

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