18 May 2015

Law in Plain English: Comptroller v. Wynne

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogComptroller v. Wynne

Argument: Nov 12 2014 (Aud.)

Background: The Wynnes are part owners of Maxim, a company that does a national business providing health care services. For tax purposes, the business is treated as an S corporation. As a result Maxim's income was "passed through" to its owners for federal income tax purposes, and the Wynnes reported a portion of the corporation's income on their 2006 individual federal income tax return. Because Maryland accords similar pass-through treatment to the income of S corporations, the Wynnes also reported pass-through income of Maxim on their 2006 Maryland tax return. A substantial portion of the pass-through income had been generated in other states and was taxed by those states for the 2006 tax year. The Comptroller of Maryland made a change in the computation of the local tax owed by the Wynnes and revised the credit for taxes paid to other states on the Wynnes' state tax form. According to the Comptroller, Maryland law allowed the Wynnes to receive a tax credit against their Maryland state taxes for income taxes paid to other states, but it did not allow the Wynnes to claim a credit against their Maryland county taxes. The net result was a deficiency in the Maryland taxes paid by the Wynnes, and the Comptroller issued an assessment. After several appeals, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the failure of the Maryland income tax law to allow a credit against the county tax for a Maryland resident taxpayer with respect to pass-through income of an S corporation that arises from activities in another state and that is taxed in that state violates the dormant Commerce Clause of the federal Constitution.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the United States Constitution prohibits a state from taxing all the income of its residents -- wherever earned -- by mandating a credit for taxes paid on income earned in other states.

Holding:  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Maryland’s personal income tax scheme violates the dormant Commerce Clause.
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