The First District of the Illinois Appellate Court, in Ford Motor Company v. Chicago Department of Revenue, 2014 IL App (1st) 130597 (June 27, 2014), recently held that Ford Motor Company (Ford) owes City of Chicago vehicle fuel tax on 100 percent of the fuel it purchased and dispensed into the tanks of cars it manufactured in Chicago, even though Ford offered proof that 98 percent of the fuel was resold to car dealerships around that nation.
The court relied on the language of the taxing ordinance, which imposes tax on the “privilege of purchasing or using, in the City of Chicago, vehicle fuel purchased in a sale at retail.” The court, focusing only on the first portion of that provision, found Ford “used” the fuel in Chicago, on the basis that “use” is defined to include “dispensing fuel into a vehicle’s fuel tank,” an activity Ford did when it transferred fuel from its storage tanks into the tanks of the cars it manufactured.
For the “sale at retail” element, defined as “any sale to a person for that person’s use or consumption and not for resale to another,” the court rejected Ford’s argument that it resold 98 percent of its purchased fuel to dealerships on the basis that Ford had introduced insufficient proof. The court disregarded Ford’s sample invoice that included a line item charge for 10 gallons of fuel because a supporting affidavit from Ford did not confirm that the invoiced amount was the amount actually in the tank of that specific car at the time of delivery. The court then, somewhat presumptively, inferred that the invoiced amount must be the amount that Ford initially dispensed into the car, before consuming some fuel during delivery, so that “the amount invoiced was to reimburse Ford Motor Company for fuel that it purchased and used to produce and prepare its new cars for delivery. …” Additionally, the court considered Ford’s failure to rebut the City’s evidence that no Ford dealership in Chicago had remitted fuel tax consistent with the conclusion that Ford was not reselling fuel; the court did not cite any authority for the proposition that subsequent tax collection is a necessary element of the statutory “resale” provision.
Ford also raised constitutional concerns that were not considered very seriously by the court. For example, was there sufficient nexus between the City and Ford’s use of the fuel placed into cars it transferred to dealerships? Moreover, the court did not consider the conceptual tax issue of pyramiding, as the ultimate vehicle purchaser will presumably pay tax (in almost all locations in the country) on the full price paid for the vehicle, which will cover the cost of the fuel. In any event, by focusing on the “use” and not the “resale” aspect of the taxing ordinance, the court fails to consider that the ordinance may not apply to Ford at all.