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State and Local Tax

Maryland Comptroller Provides Guidance on Private Letter Rulings Procedures and Administration

· 7 minute read

· 7 minute read

By Saleem A. Shareef

The Maryland Comptroller’s Office has adopted new regulations (Md. Regs. Code §§ 03.01.05.01 through -.07, effective 01/08/2024) and provided additional guidance on the procedures and administration of private letter rulings on state and local taxes and fees administered by the comptroller. Private letter rulings are administered by the Legal Division of the Maryland Comptroller’s Office as established and authorized by L. 2022, S477 (c. 481), effective 07/01/2022. (Technical Bulletin No. 44, Private Letter Rulings, Maryland Comptroller’s Office, 12/22/2023.)

Private letter ruling requests.

The comptroller must issue a private letter ruling on the written request of a petitioner as soon as practicable after the date on which the comptroller received the written request. A petitioner requesting a ruling must include in the request a statement as to whether the petitioner is the subject of an ongoing taxation matter, including an audit, a refund claim, a tax protest, or an appeal to the Maryland Tax Court or any other court with jurisdiction over the matter. If the petitioner is the subject of an ongoing taxation matter, the statement must include any relevant case numbers or other identifying information. The comptroller, as appropriate, can request additional information from the petitioner requesting the ruling. The petitioner must submit the information to the comptroller within 30 days after the date on which the petitioner receives the comptroller’s request. A petition for a ruling can be submitted by either a petitioner who is a party to the subject transaction, or an authorized representative on behalf of a party to the subject transaction.

Denial of request: However, the comptroller can deny a request for a ruling for good cause, including: (1) the issue is the subject of existing guidance to taxpayers published by the comptroller; (2) the petitioner did not timely submit the additional information requested by the comptroller; (3) the issue identified in the request is under extensive study or review or is currently being considered in a rulemaking procedure, contested case, or any other agency or judicial proceeding that can resolve the issue; (4) the request involves a hypothetical situation or alternative plans; (5) the transaction for which the ruling is requested is designed to avoid taxation; (6) the facts or issues identified in the request are unclear, overbroad, insufficient, or otherwise inappropriate as a basis on which to issue a ruling; (7) the request is to determine whether a statute is constitutional under the Maryland Constitution or the U.S. Constitution; (8) the issue is clearly and adequately addressed by statute, regulation, or court decision; (9) the issue involves the tax consequence of any proposed but not yet enacted federal, state, or local legislation; (10) the comptroller has reason to believe the issue is the subject of an examination, audit, or pending refund request of the petitioner for the same or a prior tax period; or (11) the petition for a ruling does not identify the taxpayer or taxpayers. If the comptroller denies a request for a ruling, the comptroller must notify the petitioner in writing of the reasons for the denial and why those reasons constitute good cause, and within 60 days after the date on which the request was submitted to the comptroller.

Withdrawal of request: A petitioner can withdraw, in writing, the request for a ruling at any time before the issuance of the ruling.

Validity.

An issued ruling can be relied on solely and prospectively by the petitioner for whom the ruling is requested unless there is an intervening statutory or regulatory change or the ruling is revoked by the comptroller. A ruling is binding on the comptroller from the date it is issued for a period of seven years unless: (1) there has been a misstatement or omission of material facts in the request; (2) the actual facts are determined to be materially different from the facts on which the ruling was based; (3) there has been a change in law or a final decision in a contested case that the comptroller determines affects the validity of the ruling; or (4) the comptroller has modified or revoked the ruling. An unfavorable ruling does not bind the petitioner for whom the ruling was requested. The modification or revocation of a ruling by the comptroller cannot be applied retroactively to taxable periods or taxable years before the effective date of the modification or revocation. The petitioner can request a written modification or revocation of a ruling, which must be submitted in writing and include a detailed description of the basis for the request.

Appeals.

A ruling cannot be appealed to the comptroller’s Hearings and Appeals Division, the Maryland Tax Court, any other administrative agency or tribunal, or any state or federal court. However, the petitioner can choose to take a tax position that is contrary to the determination of the comptroller in the ruling. A petitioner can be assessed for any tax that results from the contrary position, and the petitioner can appeal the assessment.

Use of private letter rulings.

Although a ruling automatically expires after seven years unless renewed, the expired ruling can be used as evidence of a petitioner’s knowledge or intent in a subsequent proceeding. The comptroller can use information submitted in a petition for a ruling for subsequent audit purposes. A petitioner’s failure to follow a ruling can be considered in determining whether interest and penalties should be reduced or abated for reasonable cause in any subsequent challenge of an assessment or denial of a refund on the issue covered by the ruling. Since it is not binding on the petitioner, a ruling serves to put the petitioner on notice as to the comptroller’s treatment of the transaction. The petitioner can rely on the ruling as a defense to a tax assessment, interest, or penalty sought to be imposed by the comptroller. Published rulings can be relied upon by the public as informal, nonbinding guidance.

Renewal.

No earlier than six months before the expiration date, a petitioner can request a renewal of a ruling. A renewal request must be submitted in writing to the Legal Division and include a detailed description of the basis for renewal, including a statement that no material facts have been changed and a statement that no law, regulation, rule, or decision in a contested case affects the validity of the ruling. The comptroller can deny a request for renewal if there has been a change to the facts or law, or if one of the reasons for denial of private letter ruling requests in general applies.

Publication.

The comptroller must publish periodically on the comptroller’s website copies of rulings that the comptroller determines to be of interest to the general public. The comptroller must redact personally identifiable information in a published ruling in order to ensure the confidentiality of any person that is the subject of the ruling. If the comptroller intends to publish a ruling, the comptroller must provide, at least 15 business days prior to publication, a redacted or anonymized draft for publication of the ruling to the petitioner. In the draft for publication, the comptroller must redact or anonymize identifying details, trade secrets, commercial or financial information considered privileged, and any information that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Within 15 business days of the date the draft of the ruling intended for publication is sent to the petitioner, the petitioner can submit revisions to the proposed draft for publication of the anonymized or redacted information, if any, to the comptroller. The draft for publication must retain information sufficient to provide meaningful guidance to the public.

 

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