Court: Walmart Doesn’t Owe 3rd Party’s Online Sales Taxes

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NEW ORLEANS — Walmart isn’t responsible for paying sales taxes for items sold through its online “marketplace” for third-party sellers under Louisiana law, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Wednesday’s 4-3 decision comes in a case involving the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish. It doesn’t set a precedent in other states for online facilitators of third-party sales, like Walmart or Amazon. But an attorney familiar with the case says it’s being watched around the nation.

“This is a case of first impression in the country,” Bill Backstrom of the Jones Walker law firm said in an email. Backstrom had filed a brief in the case in support of Walmart. Prior to Wednesday’s decision, he said the decision could provide guidance in other jurisdictions dealing with questions of whether online marketplaces and other intermediaries bear the burden of collecting sales taxes from customers and remitting them to governments.

Justice John Weimer, writing for the four-member majority, said neither statutes nor the terms of Walmart’s agreements with third-party dealers obligate it to pay taxes on the third-party sales.

“Clearly, third party retailers are not prohibited from collecting sales tax directly from their purchasers,” Weimer noted.

Among the dissenters was Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who said Walmart, referred to in some court documents as Wal-Mart, fits the definition under state law of a “dealer” required to collect and remit local sales taxes, she said.

“It is also troubling to me that the Marketplace Retailer Agreement — created by — operates to promote and facilitate avoidance of tax payments by consumers, all to the detriment of Jefferson Parish,” she wrote.

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