State and Local Tax Alert: Ohio Sales Tax on Janitorial Services Clarified: All Cleaning Services Are Not the Same (Especially When the Services Relate to Beer)
The Ohio Supreme Court has executed it again. It announced a sales and use tax decision two days after Christmas and some days earlier than New Year’s Eve. Excellent Lakes Bar Control, Inc. V. Testa (12‑27‑18), Slip Op. No. 2018‑Ohio‑5207. (The Court launched its income and use tax selection regarding bobblehead dolls and the resale exemption the day earlier than Thanksgiving.) Thus, within the spirit of excursion birthday celebration, I take pen in hand to jot down this alert once more.
The records in Great Lakes are unremarkable. The legal reasoning, however, is sublime in its simplicity. In that manner, the Court’s opinion is excellent.
The taxpayer provided beer line upkeep services to restaurants and bars to remove the buildup of undesirable sediments, including bacteria and yeast. Naturally, contaminants clogged its clients’ beer traces and taps and gave the beer a horrific flavor. The taxpayer deployed technicians to investigate the lines, agitate their contents, and inject compressed gas to remove sediments. The strains from time to time had been flushed with an acid or potassium rinse to inhibit bacteria growth.
The Ohio Department of Taxation decided that these offerings have been taxable constructing upkeep and janitorial service beneath R.C. 5739.01(B)(3)(j). The taxpayer challenged this determination.
Ohio income tax applies to building protection and janitorial services. “Building protection and janitorial provider” is defined as “cleansing the indoors or outside of a constructing and any tangible non-public property placed therein or thereon * * *.” R.C. 5739.01(II). The Court targeted its criminal analysis on whether the beer-line offerings certified as “cleansing” as that term is used inside the tax statute.
However, the time “cleaning” isn’t always defined inside the Ohio tax code. What to do? Every lawyer recollects studying instances and taking checks in law college while the identical sort of questions has been presented: What does a phrase in a statute imply while the term itself isn’t always defined? What intent is maximum persuasive to aid the chosen meaning? Such an exercising call for utility of sharp definitions to give sense and barriers to phrases that might be themselves blunter  and gentle edged. This is what legal professionals, judges, and courts are referred to as to do. They depend on words to present that means to statutes that function as directional signposts for future behavior and the consequences that follow.
Fortunately, there are “policies of the road” that display us the first-class or at least a better direction to comply within analyzing and making use of the law. These regulations are not new. They had been around for centuries and assisted offer consistency and continuity. The majority relied on these examined axioms to attain their end in Great Lakes. They include:
When a time is undefined, the time is given. It is plain and ordinary that means.
When interpreting the language of a statute, words and phrases shall be studied in context and construed consistent with the regulations of grammar and not unusual usage.
Evaluating the context wherein a phrase is written is essential to a truthful studying of the textual content. The words of a governing text are of paramount concern, and what they convey of their context is the textual content approach.
Instead of limiting evaluation to the hyperliteral that means of every phrase, consideration should accept the everyday meaning of the phrase as it’s miles used in the surrounding textual content.
The Court checked out the ordinary meaning of the word “cleaning” in the context of janitorial offerings (i.E., services that embody interest, including washing flooring or home windows, putting off rubbish, vacuuming, and dusting, and so forth). In the context of its surrounding words and the actual service being defined, precisely “janitorial provider,” the Court rejected the argument advanced by the Tax Commissioner to zero in handiest on the phrase “cleaning” in isolation because it would push aside the importance of the text as a whole. The Court, known as such a technique, a “hyperliteral analyzing” that falls flat because it disregards the natural connotation of “cleansing” that becomes most apparent when taken into consideration in the context of “janitorial offerings.” That is, the meaning of “cleaning” must not be divided and separated from the term its miles itself defining (i.E., janitorial services). This simple, ordinary experience method was given lost when the Tax Commissioner and the Attorney General argued for more tax.