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Letter of Findings Number: 04-20120673P
Sales and Use Tax
For Tax Years 2009, 2010, 2011

NOTICE: Under IC § 4-22-7-7, this document is required to be published in the Indiana Register and is effective on its date of publication. It shall remain in effect until the date it is superseded or deleted by the publication of a new document in the Indiana Register. The publication of the document will provide the general public with information about the Department's official position concerning a specific issue.
I. Tax Administration – Negligence Penalty.
Authority: IC § 6-2.5-8-8; IC § 6-8.1-10-2.1; 45 IAC 2.2-8-12; 45 IAC 15-11-2.
Taxpayer protests the imposition of the ten percent negligence penalty.
Taxpayer operates a gas station/convenience store in Indiana. Taxpayer sells gasoline and diesel fuel. The Indiana Department of Revenue ("Department") conducted a sales and use tax audit of Taxpayer for the tax years 2009, 2010 and 2011. The Department's audit found that Taxpayer's exempt diesel sales were not supported with exemption certificates, so the Department taxed those transactions. The Department also found that Taxpayer's reported cost of goods sold percentage was unsupported by Taxpayer's available records. As a result, the Department assessed additional sales tax, penalty, and interest.
Taxpayer protests the Department's penalty billing on the sales tax audit. An administrative hearing was held. This Letter of Findings ensues. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.
I. Tax Administration – Negligence Penalty.
Taxpayer protests the imposition of the negligence penalty assessed for underreporting sales. Taxpayer protests that the bulk of the adjustment from the audit was due to not collecting sales tax from its customers on the sale of diesel fuel without having collected valid exemption certificates. Pursuant to IC § 6-2.5-8-8:
(a) A person, authorized under subsection (b), who makes a purchase in a transaction which is exempt from the state gross retail and use taxes, may issue an exemption certificate to the seller instead of paying the tax. The person shall issue the certificate on forms and in the manner prescribed by the department. A seller accepting a proper exemption certificate under this section has no duty to collect or remit the state gross retail or use tax on that purchase.
(b) The following are the only persons authorized to issue exemption certificates:
(1) retail merchants, wholesalers, and manufacturers, who are registered with the department under this chapter;
(2) organizations which are exempt from the state gross retail tax under IC 6-2.5-5-21, IC 6-2.5-5-25, or IC 6-2.5-5-26 and which are registered with the department under this chapter; and
(3) other persons who are exempt from the state gross retail tax with respect to any part of their purchases.
(c) The department may also allow a person to issue a blanket exemption certificate to cover exempt purchases over a stated period of time. The department may impose conditions on the use of the blanket exemption certificate and restrictions on the kind or category of purchases that are exempt.
(Emphasis added).
In addition, 45 IAC 2.2-8-12 provides:
(a) Exemption certificates may be issued [sic.] only by purchasers authorized to issue such certificates by the Department of Revenue. Retail merchants, manufacturers, wholesalers and others who must register with the Department of Revenue and who qualify to purchase exempt from tax under this Act [IC 6-2.5] may issue exemption certificates with respect to exempt transactions. All persons or entities not required to register with the Department as retail merchants, manufacturers, or wholesalers, and who are exempt under this Act [IC 6-2.5] with respect to all or a portion of their purchases are authorized to issue exemption certificates with respect to exempt transaction provided an exemption number has been assigned by the Department of Revenue, or provided that the Department of Revenue has specifically provided a form and manner for issuing exemption certificates without the need for assigning an exemption number.
(b) Retail merchants are required to collect the sales and use tax on each sale which constitutes a retail transaction unless the merchant can establish that the item purchased will be used by the purchaser for an exempt purpose.
(c) All retail sales of tangible personal property for delivery in the state of Indiana shall be presumed to be subject to sales or use tax until the contrary is established. The burden of proof is on the buyer and also on the seller unless the seller receives an exemption certificate.
(d) Unless the seller receives a properly completed exemption certificate the merchant must prove that sales tax was collected and remitted to the state or that the purchaser actually used the item for an exempt purpose. It is, therefore, very important to the seller to obtain an exemption certificate in order to avoid the necessity for such proof. The mere filing of a Registered Retail Merchant Certificate number is not sufficient to relieve the seller of the responsibility to collect the sales tax or prove exempt use by the buyer.
(e) No exemption certificates are required for sales in interstate commerce, however, proper records must be maintained to substantiate such sales.
(f) An exemption certificate issued by a purchaser shall not be valid unless it is executed in the prescribed and approved form and unless all information requested on such form is completed.
(g) An exemption certificate or other evidence supporting an exempt sale must be maintained by the seller for at least three (3) years after the due date of the tax return upon which such exempt transaction is reported.
(h) Exemption certificates may be reproduced provided no change is made in the wording or content.
(Emphasis added).
As provided by IC § 6-2.5-8-8(a), a seller accepting a valid exemption certificate has no duty to collect or remit the state gross retail or use tax on a purchase. However, since Taxpayer, as a retail merchant, did not accept valid exemption certificates from its customers, Taxpayer had a duty to collect and remit sales tax. Because Taxpayer failed to collect and hold the taxes in trust for the state, Taxpayer is personally liable for the sales tax, interest, and penalties due to the state for those sales.
Taxpayer agrees that it owes the uncollected sales tax and interest, but argues that it should not be assessed a negligence penalty on the amount of taxes it should have collected from its customers. Although Taxpayer admits that it did not collect the exemption certificates, Taxpayer stresses that because this was Taxpayer's first sales tax audit, it is reasonable for the penalty to be waived. Penalty waiver is permitted if the taxpayer shows that the failure to pay the full amount of the tax was due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect. IC § 6-8.1-10-2.1. The Indiana Administrative Code, 45 IAC 15-11-2 further provides:
(b) "Negligence" on behalf of a taxpayer is defined as the failure to use such reasonable care, caution, or diligence as would be expected of an ordinary reasonable taxpayer. Negligence would result from a taxpayer's carelessness, thoughtlessness, disregard or inattention to duties placed upon the taxpayer by the Indiana Code or department regulations. Ignorance of the listed tax laws, rules and/or regulations is treated as negligence. Further, failure to read and follow instructions provided by the department is treated as negligence. Negligence shall be determined on a case by case basis according to the facts and circumstances of each taxpayer.
(c) The department shall waive the negligence penalty imposed under IC 6-8.1-10-1 if the taxpayer affirmatively establishes that the failure to file a return, pay the full amount of tax due, timely remit tax held in trust, or pay a deficiency was due to reasonable cause and not due to negligence. In order to establish reasonable cause, the taxpayer must demonstrate that it exercised ordinary business care and prudence in carrying out or failing to carry out a duty giving rise to the penalty imposed under this section. Factors which may be considered in determining reasonable cause include, but are not limited to:
(1) the nature of the tax involved;
(2) judicial precedents set by Indiana courts;
(3) judicial precedents established in jurisdictions outside Indiana;
(4) published department instructions, information bulletins, letters of findings, rulings, letters of advice, etc.;
(5) previous audits or letters of findings concerning the issue and taxpayer involved in the penalty assessment.
Reasonable cause is a fact sensitive question and thus will be dealt with according to the particular facts and circumstances of each case.
Taxpayer has not shown there was reasonable cause for its failure to collect exemption certificates. Furthermore, there were other issues found by the Department that resulted in additional sales tax liability upon which a penalty was assessed, and for which Taxpayer has also not provided a satisfactory explanation regarding reasonable cause. Therefore, the Department finds that Taxpayer has not made an affirmative showing of reasonable cause for not remitting sales tax for the periods at issue.
Taxpayer's protest is respectfully denied.

Posted: 04/24/2013 by Legislative Services Agency

DIN: 20130424-IR-045130151NRA
Composed: Jan 22,2019 2:51:32AM EST
A PDF version of this document.