Are Corporate Investors Doing Business in California If They Invest in California LLCs? A Look at Swart
By Jeffrey S. Reed1
Investing in the stock of a California company does not cause an investor to be taxable in California. Should the treatment be the same if, instead of purchasing stock, an investor purchases a membership interest in a California limited liability company? Or is an investment in a limited liability company a different form of investment than a stock purchase such that it warrants different California tax treatment?
These are not merely academic questions. California courts have recently been asked to address them. In particular, a California Court of Appeal recently concluded that a passive membership interest in a California LLC is not sufficient to cause a corporate investor to be considered "doing business" in California. However, the reach of the opinion is unclear and the California Franchise Tax Board ("FTB") is administratively attempting to limit the case to its facts. Therefore, it is unclear if investors in California LLCs and partnerships can necessarily expect the same results. Other cases currently working through the California administrative appeals process may shed additional light on when investments in California LLCs and partnerships give rise to a California tax-filing obligation.
Below is a summary of the leading California case, administrative guidance issued by the FTB in response to the case, and a summary of pending class action refund litigation addressing the same passive investment in an LLC fact pattern.