By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A Leon County circuit judge has sided with a subsidiary of the Target retail chain in a battle with the Florida Department of Revenue about millions of dollars in corporate income taxes.
Judge J. Lee Marsh issued an 11-page decision Monday rejecting the department’s arguments that Target Enterprise, Inc., should pay more than $7.9 million in taxes, plus interest, after the department conducted an audit of the company for fiscal years that ended in January 2017, January 2018 and January 2019.
Target Enterprise provides marketing, merchandising and other services to Target Corp., the parent company. Both are based in Minneapolis, where the vast majority of Target Enterprise’s employees work.
Target Enterprise filed the lawsuit last December in a dispute that, at least in part, involved how income should be “apportioned” for tax purposes. Such apportionment is an issue when companies do business in multiple states.
After conducting the audit, the Department of Revenue used a formula involving the square footage of Target stores in Florida and the square footage of Target stores overall. It issued an assessment for $7,918,977 in taxes plus interest, which as of August 2021, totaled about $2.3 million, according to court documents.
“The evidence shows that TEI’s (Target Enterprise’s) activities are primarily responsible for the proper operations and success of Target as a whole,” the department contended in a Nov. 18 written closing argument. “Therefore a ratio of Target’s Florida stores’ proportion of square footage to Target stores’ square footage everywhere was used as an approximation for sales with Florida nexus.”
But Marsh rejected the department’s decision to use the methodology, concluding that most services Target Enterprise provided to Target Corp. occurred outside Florida. As an example, Marsh wrote that 94.9 percent of Target Enterprise’s payroll was attributable to Minnesota, while less than 0.1 percent was Florida payroll.
“It is clear from the facts presented that TEI is not directly providing services to individual Target retail locations,” Marsh, who held a trial Nov. 2, wrote. “TEI is providing services to Target. How — or if — Target chooses to use these services in its retail stores in no way impacts TEI’s entitlement to receive compensation under (an agreement between Target Enterprise and Target Corp).”
In part, the Department of Revenue argued that it used the square-footage methodology because Target Enterprise did not provide sufficient information during the audit. Also, the department contended in its written closing argument that “evidence shows that a significant portion of TEI’s income is an intercompany shifting of income from Target to TEI.”
But Marsh and Target Enterprise refuted the argument about insufficient information. In a written closing argument, Target Enterprise also said it is a “distinct legal entity” from Target Corp. which operates stores.
“TEI is providing services to Target,” the company’s attorneys wrote. “The department’s proposed formula conflates Target’s business activity in Florida … with TEI’s business activity (employing human capital to perform services).