In Letter of Finding No. 02-20140306 (Dec. 31, 2014), the Indiana Department of Revenue (Department) determined that income from the sale of two operating divisions of a business pursuant to an order of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was non-business income under Indiana law. Following the reasoning of the Indiana Tax Court in May Department Stores Co. v. Ind. Dep’t of State Revenue, 749 N.E.2d 651 (2001), the Department held that the gain constituted non-business income because the forced divestiture was not an integral part of the taxpayer’s business. Taxpayers facing the consequences of forced divestitures should consider whether similar positions can be taken, both in Indiana and in other Uniform Division of Income for Tax Purposes Act (UDITPA) jurisdictions.
Like many states that base their income apportionment provisions on UDITPA, Indiana defines “non-business income” as all income that is not business income. Indiana employs both the “functional test” and the “transactional test” to determine if a particular item of income qualifies as “business income.” Income may qualify as business income under either test; it is not required that both tests be met.
The functional test considers whether the income derives from the acquisition, management or disposition of property constituting an integral part of the taxpayer’s regular trade or business. Simply put, if a piece of property is used in the taxpayer’s regular course of business, a transaction involving that property will often result in business income. The transactional test, meanwhile, considers whether the income derives from a transaction or activity in which the taxpayer regularly engages.
In the Letter of Finding, the Department considered a taxpayer that sought to acquire, by merger, one of its competitors (“Target”), which consisted of four primary business divisions. The taxpayer and Target were part of a concentrated industry with very few competitors, so the acquisition created antitrust concerns. The taxpayer and Target sought advice from the FTC, which ordered that two of Target’s divisions be sold to a competitor if the merger were to take place. The taxpayer and Target complied with the FTC’s order, and Target sold the divisions to a competitor in 2006, prior to the merger. It classified its resulting income as non-business income. On audit, the Department reclassified the Target’s gain as business income, reducing the taxpayer’s Indiana net operating losses available for use in 2008-2010. The taxpayer appealed.
In examining the transaction, the Department first noted that the income from the sale of the divisions could not meet the transactional test because Target did not engage in the regular sale of business divisions. The Department then turned to the functional test. Arguably, the sale of the two operational business divisions should have resulted in business income because the divisions were used in the regular course of Target’s business. However, the Department observed that this fact alone was not enough to meet the functional test—“[t]he disposition too must be an integral part of the taxpayer’s regular trade or business operations.” Relying on May Department Stores, which also involved a court-ordered disposition resulting from an antitrust case, the Department then determined that the sale of the business benefitted Target’s competitors rather than Target and did not result in business income under the functional test because that sale was not “an integral part” of Target’s business.
Taxpayers hoping to treat gain as non-business income should take note of this ruling. Both the recent Letter of Finding and the underlying May Department Stores decision were ultimately based on UDITPA language, so a similar result may apply in other states using UDITPA or similar provisions. Additionally, the reasoning of the forced disposition exception to the functional test could arguably extend outside of the antitrust context. For example, if a creditor forced the sale of an operating unit, a similar argument could be made that the sale was not an integral part of the taxpayer’s business.