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Tried and "True Object" Test: Michigan Court of Appeals Finds Mass Document Printing Not a Service

By Suzanne Palms and Andrew Appleby 

The Michigan Court of Appeals held that a taxpayer was not liable for additional single business t

April 5, 2013

By Suzanne Palms and Andrew Appleby 

The Michigan Court of Appeals held that a taxpayer was not liable for additional single business tax (SBT) and use tax because the taxpayer was making sales of tangible personal property at its Michigan facility rather than performing a service. The taxpayer’s business activities at issue consisted of “mass printing of documents,” the content of which was delivered to the taxpayer electronically by its customers. The State argued that the taxpayer provided a service, while the taxpayer argued it was making sales of tangible personal property. The court relied on Catalina Mktg. Sales Corp. v. Dep’t of Treas., 678 N.W.2d 619 (Mich. 2004), and applied the “incidental to service” or “true object” test to find that the taxpayer was in the business of producing tangible personal property at the facility. The court determined that the taxpayer’s customers created the intangible content, and the taxpayer simply printed it on paper for delivery. Thus, the true object of the transaction was the printed document. The “true object” test is often used in the sales and use tax context, but this case is unique because the court applied the test not only in the use tax context but also in the SBT context. HOV Servs., Inc. v. Dep’t of Treas., Dkt. No. 309575 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 21, 2013) (unpublished).

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