Washington, DC - Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced that his office recently filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court against the State of California seeking to invalidate California’s extraterritorial tax assessments and seizures, which result from an unconstitutional “doing business” tax against businesses and individuals that don’t actually conduct any business in California.
Every year, California assesses an $800 “doing business” taxes against Arizona businesses that conduct no actual business in California. Instead, their only connection to California is a mere passive, non-managing investment in a California limited liability company. California continues to assess these “doing business” taxes even though both its state courts and tax appeals agency have held that the taxes are illegal under California law.
The lawsuit filed by Arizona alleges that these taxes are plainly unconstitutional under the Due Process and Commerce Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court has held that passive investment in a company located in another state is not sufficient “minimum contacts” to impose taxation under the Due Process Clause (Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977)). The Supreme Court has also recognized four requirements for states to impose taxes on out-of-state businesses under the Commerce Clause. California’s “doing business” assessments brazenly violate all four.
The amounts collected by these “doing business” assessments are substantial. Arizona estimates that its citizens pay over $10 million in these unconstitutional taxes to the State of California every year.
These taxes also impact Arizona’s tax collections. Since the “doing business” taxes are deductible expenses, Arizona loses an estimated $484,000 in tax revenue each year due to California’s illegal taxation.
These figures are further compounded since the tax applies to all individuals in other states who invest in California businesses.
Making matters worse, if California’s tax assessments are not paid voluntarily, California frequently further tramples on the sovereignty of other states by issuing orders to interstate banks, demanding that they transfer funds in Arizona-based accounts for back payment. Those seizure orders threaten the banks that, if they do not transfer the funds, California will take the taxes and penalties owed from the banks instead. Not surprisingly, the banks almost uniformly consent to California’s strong-arm tactics.
Exhibit G in the filing provides an example where California demanded that Wells Fargo not only transfer the $800 tax, but also a $200 “demand penalty,” a $432 “late filing penalty,” a $79 “filing enforcement fee,” and $63.40 in interest, for a “Total Tax, Penalties, Interest and Fees” of $1574.40.
The lawsuit alleges that these seizure orders violate both the Due Process Clause (by exercising jurisdiction over out-of-state funds without the requisite “minimum contacts”); and, the Fourth Amendment (by effectuating seizures without a warrant, probable cause, or involvement of any court). Those seizure orders further preclude the banks from filing any court challenge.
Arizona’s suit seeks to end California’s unconstitutional tax encroachments.