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Supreme Court to hear sales tax collection case

  Tax  -   POSTED: 2018/01/14 08:39

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to wade into the issue of sales tax collection on internet purchases in a case that could force consumers to pay more for certain purchases and allow states to recoup what they say is billions in lost revenue annually.

Under previous Supreme Court rulings, when internet retailers don't have a physical presence in a state, they can't be forced to collect sales tax on sales into that state. Consumers who purchase from out-of-state retailers are generally supposed to pay the state taxes themselves, but few do. A total of 36 states and the District of Columbia had asked the high court to revisit the issue.

Large brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Target have long bemoaned the fact that they have to collect sales tax on online purchases because they have physical stores nationwide. Meanwhile, smaller online retailers, who don't have vast networks of stores, don't have to collect the tax where they don't have a physical presence.

Internet giant Amazon.com fought for years against collecting sales tax but now does so nationwide, though third-party sellers on its site make their own decisions. But the case before the Supreme Court does directly affect other online retailers, including Overstock.com, home goods company Wayfair and electronics retailer Newegg, who are part of the case the court accepted.

States say the court's previous rulings have also hurt them. According to one estimate cited by the states in a brief they filed with the high court, they'll lose out on nearly $34 billion in 2018 if the Supreme Court's previous rulings stand. The Government Accountability Office, which provides nonpartisan reports to Congress, wrote in a report last year that state and local governments would have been able to gain between $8.5 billion and $13 billion in 2017 if they could require out-of-state sellers to collect tax on sales into the state. All but five states charge a sales tax.



In a case that pits freedom of expression and equality against public decency, three women are challenging a New Hampshire city ordinance prohibiting public nudity and taking it to the state's highest court.

Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro were ticketed in 2016 in Laconia after they went topless at Weirs Beach over Memorial Day weekend. Pierro was doing yoga, while the other two were sunbathing.

Some beachgoers complained and a police officer asked them to cover up. When they refused, they were arrested. A legal motion to dismiss a case against the women was denied so they have appealed it to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which is expected to hear the case Feb. 1. The women want to the court to dismiss their conviction by invalidating the city's ordinance.

The three women argue there's no state law forbidding female toplessness and that the ordinance is discriminatory since men are allowed to go shirtless. They also contend their constitutional rights to freedom of expression were violated.

"The law in the state of New Hampshire is that it is legal for a woman to go topless so we're trying to get the town of Laconia to recognize and to stay with the state," Lilley said. "The town ordinance, in our opinion, is not constitutional. We're hoping the Supreme Court will see that."

The women are part of the Free the Nipple movement, a global campaign that argues it should be acceptable for women to bare their nipples in public, since men can. Supporters of the campaign also are taking their causes to courts with mixed success.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in October that a public indecency ordinance in Missouri didn't violate the state constitution by allowing men, but not women, to show their nipples. But in February, a U.S. District Court judge blocked the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, from enforcing a law against women going topless, arguing it was based on gender discrimination. The city is appealing.''


Three backers of Catalonia's independence sought Thursday to get released from jail for their role in the region's push to break from Spain, which triggered the country's worst political crisis in decades.

Former Catalan interior minister, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sanchez, a member of pro-independence civic group National Catalan Assembly, and Catalan activist Jordi Cuixart made their cases to a Spain Supreme Court judge. A ruling from Judge Pablo LLarena is not expected Thursday.

Forn was one of several regional ministers jailed on provisional charges of rebellion after the regional parliament unilaterally — and unsuccessfully — declared Catalonia an independent republic Oct. 27.

The action prompted the Spanish government in Madrid to remove the region's government from office, dissolve the parliament and call a fresh election that was held last month.

Sanchez and Forn were elected on separatist party tickets, but the Spanish government still is running Catalonia.

Sanchez and Cuixart had been jailed earlier on provisional sedition charges related to preparations for an Oct. 1 independence referendum, which Spain's Constitutional Court had suspended.

All three supporters of Catalan independence told the judge they would oppose further unilateral moves to secede and act in accordance with Spanish law, according to lawyers familiar with the proceedings.

The lawyers requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss what was said during the closed-door hearings.

The lawyers said Sanchez acknowledged that the Oct. 1 referendum was not legally valid. Forn, who as interior minister oversaw Catalonia's security and its regional police, said he would not accept the post again, if he were asked to.

Developments surrounding Catalonia have gripped Spain for months, and the tumult is showing no sign of letting up before the new parliament's first session on Wednesday.


A New Jersey doctor accused of having his wife killed to protect an illegal prescription drug ring he was running with an outlaw biker gang has been moved to a different jail nearly 100 miles away due to an alleged plot by a co-defendant to kill him.

James Kauffman, 68, of Linwood, New Jersey, is charged with numerous offenses, including murder, racketeering and weapons offenses.

Kauffman and co-defendant Ferdinand Augello, 61, of Petersburg, New Jersey, are charged in the death of Kauffman's 47-year-old wife, April, a radio talk show host who was fatally shot in her home in May 2012.

The charges, including those relating to April Kauffman's shooting as well as the alleged plot to kill James Kauffman, were announced Tuesday after more than five years of investigation.

On Thursday, following brief initial court appearances via video links, prosecutors said Kauffman has been moved from the Atlantic County Jail in Mays Landing to the Hudson County Jail in Kearney, nearly 100 miles away, for his protection.

"We don't think it would be prudent for those two to be lodged together," Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner said.

The prosecutor said Augello discussed a plan to have Kauffman killed before he could come to trial. Scott Sherwood, a public defender representing Augello, declined to comment Thursday.



Lawmakers in Greece are set to limit the powers of Islamic courts operating in a border region that is home to a 100,000-strong Muslim minority.

Backed by parliament's largest political parties, the draft law is set to be voted on later Tuesday. The proposal aims to scrap rules dating back more than 90 years ago and which refer many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Sharia law courts. The new legislation will give Greek courts priority in all cases.

The changes — considered long overdue by many Greek legal experts — follow a complaint to the Council of Europe's Court of Human Rights over an inheritance dispute by a Muslim woman who lives in the northeastern Greek city of Komotini.

Legislation concerning minority rights was based on international treaties following wars in the aftermath of the Ottoman empire's collapse. The Muslim minority in Greece is largely Turkish speaking. Minority areas were visited last month by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Greek governments in the past have been reluctant to amend minority rights, as many disputes between Greece and Turkey remain unresolved.

Currently, Islamic court hearings are presided over by a single official, a state-appointed Muslim cleric.

In parliament Tuesday, Constantine Gavroglou, minister of education and religious affairs, praised opposition party support for the bill.


The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of a former police chief found guilty in the 2009 death of his pregnant fiancée.

Russell Bertram was sentenced in 2016 to life in prison for fatally shooting 26-year-old Leonila Stickney. The high court this week declined to vacate Bertram's conviction.

At the time of the incident, Bertram told authorities he was putting his shotgun into his truck after a hunting trip when the weapon fired accidentally, striking Stickney.

Officials accused the one-time Harrisburg police chief of shooting Stickney out of jealousy and to collect more than $900,000 in insurance benefits.

Supreme Court justices ruled the circuit court didn't abuse its discretion by excluding polygraph evidence from Bertram or admitting prosecutors' evidence of his sexual encounters with other women in the days before Stickney's death.



Reminders of the oyster's pre-eminence in this slice of northwestern Florida are everywhere, from the shells that line the edges of downtown buildings to the paintings of oysters that dot the walls of Apalachicola's art and history museum.

It's the oysters themselves that are harder to find these days, and Florida is hoping the Supreme Court can help fix that. The high court hears arguments Monday in the long-running dispute between Florida and neighboring Georgia over the flow of water in the Apalachicola River, which runs from the state line to Apalachicola Bay and the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

Florida sued Georgia in the Supreme Court in 2013, blaming farmers and booming metro Atlanta for low river flows that harmed the environment and fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Florida portrays the case as its last chance to "stem Georgia's inequitable consumption" of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia, leaving too little by the time the rivers come together and pass into Florida.

"It is effectively strangling the Apalachicola Region and killing or threatening its animal and plant life," Florida said in its Supreme Court brief. Although the justices usually hear appeals, lawsuits between states start in the Supreme Court.

Georgia said Florida has failed to show that it would benefit from any cuts imposed on Georgia, pointing to the conclusion of a court-appointed special master who recommended that the justices side with Georgia. Georgia also said Florida is asking for unreasonable reductions that would "threaten the water supply of 5 million people in metropolitan Atlanta and risk crippling a multibillion-dollar agricultural sector in southwest Georgia."

Complicating the issue is the absence from the lawsuit of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages dams on the Chattahoochee River.

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