United States: Sprint FCA Case Denied Certiorari By U.S. Supreme Court

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in a challenge by Sprint Nextel Corp. ("Sprint") to a False Claims Act ("FCA") lawsuit by New York state against it for sales taxes not collected and remitted on telecommunications services. The Court's denial of Sprint's petition for certiorari comes on the heels of the telecommunication giant's loss at the New York State Court of Appeals, where it sought to have the state's case thrown out on a motion to dismiss. Sprint will now need to defend the FCA lawsuit in New York's state courts.

Background

Sprint, a mobile telecommunications service provider, sold wireless calling plans to New York customers that included voice services in exchange for fixed periodic charges. Under these flat-rate calling plans, Sprint's customers were permitted to use Sprint's wireless network for a set number of minutes or for an unlimited number of minutes, and could use those minutes to make phone calls to people or phones within New York or to people or phones in other states. Based on its reading of the New York Tax Law, Sprint determined that it was not required to collect sales tax from its New York customers on the portion of its fixed periodic charges that were attributable to interstate voice services, which are specifically exempt from sales tax under Tax Law section 1105(b)(1).

The FCA case against Sprint dates back to March 2011, when Empire State Ventures LLC filed a qui tam action alleging that Sprint knowingly violated the FCA by not collecting and remitting New York sales tax on the full amount of its receipts from flat-rate calling plans sold to New York customers. Subsequently, the New York state attorney general intervened and filed a superseding complaint making similar claims under the FCA, as well as claims related to allegations that Sprint violated the Tax Law and Executive Law by knowingly filing false sales tax returns. The attorney general is seeking more than $300 million in damages from Sprint.

Procedural History

Sprint filed a motion to dismiss in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, arguing that: (1) the attorney general's complaint failed to state a cause of action under state law; and (2) New York's attempt to impose sales tax on interstate and international calls that were bundled with intrastate calls is prohibited by federal law, specifically the Mobile Telecommunications Sourcing Act ("MTSA").1 As discussed above, Sprint argued that under New York's Tax Law, it was permitted to exclude from sales tax the portion of its flat-rate calling plans that were attributable to interstate and international voice services, even when those services were bundled with intrastate voice services. The attorney general disagreed with Sprint's interpretation of the Tax Law. In response, Sprint argued that the attorney general's contrary interpretation of the statute (i.e., that taxpayers are not permitted to "unbundle" the tax exempt components of such voice services) is in direct contrast with, and thus preempted by, the MTSA.

The relevant provision of the MTSA, section 123(b), provides that:

[i]f a taxing jurisdiction does not otherwise subject charges for mobile telecommunications service to taxation and if these charges are aggregated with and not separately stated from charges that are subject to taxation, then the charges for nontaxable mobile telecommunications services may be subject to taxation unless the home service provider can reasonably identify charges not subject to such tax, charge, or fee from its books and records that are kept in the regular course of business.2

The trial court denied Sprint's motion to dismiss, as did the Supreme Court, Appellate Division and the New York State Court of Appeals. Sprint subsequently filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today's Decision

With the denial of Sprint's certiorari petition, Sprint must continue to fight the state's lawsuit in state court. Unless Sprint is willing and able to reach a settlement with the attorney general, this will undoubtedly mean the continuation of extensive discovery and possibly a trial on the merits. The prospect of a public trial regarding intimate details of Sprint's business operations and tax compliance decisions should concern every taxpayer in New York. Individuals and businesses should not be pressured by the government into making large payments of taxes, penalties and interest that may not be owed or that relate to honest disagreements as to how the Tax Law should be interpreted.

We will monitor developments and provide updates as Sprint continues its fight against the attorney general. In the meantime, taxpayers should continue to reassess their past and current tax compliance decisions in light of the new risk environment posed by New York's FCA and the attorney general's willingness to bring aggressive enforcement actions under the law. Indeed, the decision of the Court of Appeals in denying Sprint's motion to dismiss suggests that heightened internal due diligence, obtaining advice from outside counsel, and engaging the state for advice on contested tax matters, may work to provide a defense or mitigation to damages under the FCA.

Footnotes

1. 4 U.S.C. 123(b).

2. Id.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.