October 16, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: City Improperly Imposed Use Tax on Purchases from Wholesalers that were Later Sold at Retail

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Big Sur Waterbeds, Inc. v. City of Lakewood on Thursday, October 4, 2018.

Sales and Use TaxDisplayed Furniture—Primary Purpose of Purchase.

The City of Lakewood (Lakewood) imposes use tax on tangible personal property purchased at retail and used in the city. The use tax does not apply to wholesale purchases (i.e., purchases for resale to others). Big Sur Waterbeds, Inc., Denver Mattress Co., LLC, and Sofa Mart, LLC (collectively, plaintiffs) purchase furniture tax-free from wholesalers worldwide and resell it in stores, including in Lakewood. At each Lakewood store, plaintiffs provide a showroom where they display furniture for customers to peruse and try out. Plaintiffs also maintain warehouses where they store the bulk of their inventory. Plaintiffs ultimately sell all the furniture, including the displayed furniture, and fill customer orders from either the warehouses or the showrooms. Plaintiffs’ customers pay Lakewood’s sales tax on each purchase.

Lakewood assessed use tax on plaintiffs’ purchases of displayed furniture from 2012 to 2015, on the theory that plaintiffs purchased the displayed furniture at retail for their own use in advertising their products. Plaintiffs challenged the assessments in the district court, which entered judgment in their favor.

On appeal, Lakewood contended that while plaintiffs’ inventory purchases were initially treated as exempt wholesale purchases, when a portion of this wholesale inventory was withdrawn for use as demonstration and promotion tools, the transactions were properly recharacterized as taxable retail transactions. Lakewood relied on its Initial Use Regulation and regulation 3.01.300(1)(b), pertaining to initial use of property, which focus on the primary purpose of the purchase. The court of appeals employed the “primary purpose” test from A.B. Hirschfeld Press, Inc. v. City and County of Denver, 806 P.2d 917, 918–26 (Colo. 1991), and determined that the totality of plaintiffs’ conduct indicates that they purchased the displayed furniture primarily for resale in an unaltered condition and basically unused. Because plaintiffs purchased the displayed furniture primarily for resale, not for their own use or consumption, the Initial Use Regulation does not apply. Similarly, regulation 3.01.300(1)(b), which pertains to tax-free purchases for resale that are later removed from inventory for the purchaser’s own use, does not apply because the displayed furniture was always available for resale and eventually sold. Therefore, Lakewood’s use tax does not apply to the retailers’ purchases and minor use of the furniture for display.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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