The Tennessee Supreme Court recently interpreted the laws of a foreign state in order to determine whether or not the State of Tennessee could impose a “retaliatory tax” on insurance companies based in the foreign state who operated in Tennessee as authorized workers’ compensation coverage providers. See Chartis Casualty Company et al. v. State of Tennessee, No. M2013-00885-SC-R11-CV, 2015 WL 5766279 (Tenn. October 2, 2015).
The State of Tennessee had audited a number of insurance companies based in Pennsylvania and required them to pay “retaliatory taxes” under Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-4-218. This statute allows the State of Tennessee to impose additional taxes on insurance companies from other jurisdictions when insurance companies based in Tennessee are taxed to a greater degree in those jurisdictions than the insurance companies from other jurisdictions are taxed in Tennessee. The calculation takes into account “taxes, fees, fines, penalties, licenses, deposit requirements or other obligations…” § 56-4-218(a).
In the case of the Pennsylvania companies, the State of Tennessee determined that the State of Pennsylvania’s taxes and fees on Tennessee insurance companies were higher than the State of Tennessee’s taxes and fees on Pennsylvania insurance companies. Therefore, the State of Tennessee applied “retaliatory” taxes on these Pennsylvania companies. Five of these Pennsylvania insurance companies paid the taxes under dispute to the State before filing a complaint with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The Tennessee Claims Commission granted the summary judgment motions of the State of Tennessee as to all five cases involving the five Pennsylvania insurance companies, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the rulings. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted permission to appeal.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court did not question the constitutionality of Tennessee’s retaliatory laws. Rather, the Supreme Court analyzed Pennsylvania statutes to determine whether or not Pennsylvania actually did impose a financial burden on Tennessee insurance companies doing business in Pennsylvania greater than the financial burden applied by the State of Tennessee. If they did, the Court held that Tennessee’s retaliatory taxes should have applied.
The lower courts had based their opinions on three Pennsylvania statutes which applied higher financial burdens on Tennessee insurance companies than Tennessee applied on Pennsylvania insurance companies. However, a more recent statute had been passed by the Pennsylvania legislature which stated that taxes imposed under the previous statutes were no longer to be directly imposed on insurance companies but instead were to be “imposed, collected and remitted through insurers in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Department of Labor and Industry.” 71 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 578. This statute was interpreted by the Supreme Court as not requiring the workers’ compensation assessments to be paid by insurance companies but instead to be merely collected by insurance companies from their policyholders and then paid to the State of Pennsylvania. The Court found that the newer statute repealed the three older Pennsylvania statutes imposing fees directly on insurance companies, since, because “the statutory schemes are inconsistent,” the older statutes would be repealed by implication. Chartis Casualty Company, 2015 WL 5766279 at *8.
The next question the Court analyzed was whether or not the newer Pennsylvania statute continued to place a direct financial burden upon Tennessee insurance companies doing business in Pennsylvania which exceeded the reciprocal financial burden upon Pennsylvania insurance companies doing business in Tennessee. The Court found that the fact that the policyholders of the insurance, instead of the insurance companies themselves, paid directly for these fees and taxes meant that the financial burden from the three older statutes could not be factored into a determination by Tennessee of retaliatory taxes for insurance companies. The State argued that the insurance companies’ administrative role of collecting and sending payments made by its policyholders to the State of Pennsylvania was an indirect financial burden which would be considered a fee, fine, penalty, license, deposit requirement or other obligation under the TN retaliatory tax statute. The Court, however, declined to consider this argument.
While the Court noted that the newer statute was an attempt by Pennsylvania to actively avoid retaliatory taxes for insurance companies domiciled in the state which operated in other jurisdictions, this active avoidance was successful since the financial burden of the policyholders would not factor into a determination of the financial burden for insurance companies. The Court thus found that there was no financial burden on Tennessee insurance companies operating in Pennsylvania greater than the financial burden of Pennsylvania insurance companies operating in Tennessee. Therefore, the State of Tennessee had no authority to impose retaliatory taxes upon the Pennsylvania insurance companies.