MI court clarifies MBT ‘materials and supplies’ deduction


Terry Conley
Southfield (Detroit)
T +1 248 233 1241

Steve Skiba 
Southfield (Detroit)
T +1 248 213 4265

Richard Jackson 
Southfield (Detroit)
T +1 248 233 1236 

Jamie C. Yesnowitz
Washington, DC
T +1 202 521 1504

Chuck Jones
T +1 312 602 8517

Lori Stolly
T +1 513 345 4540
On July 24, 2018, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined that the materials and supplies deduction contained in the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) means tangible personal property purchased in the tax year that is an ordinary and necessary expense to be used in carrying on a trade or business.1 The decision is consistent with the Michigan Department of Treasury’s documented interpretation of the term.2 In the case at issue, the taxpayer had included intangible expenses in computing its deduction. 

Background The MBT took effect on Jan. 1, 2008, and during its brief four-year existence was comprised of a business income tax (BIT) and a modified gross receipts tax (MGRT).3 The MGRT base consisted of gross receipts less purchases from other firms before apportionment.4 Purchases from other firms was statutorily defined to mean: “(a) inventory acquired during the tax year, including freight, shipping, delivery, or engineering charges included in the original contract price for that inventory; (b) assets, including the costs of fabrication and installation, acquired during the tax year of a type that are, or under the internal revenue code will become, eligible for depreciation, amortization, or accelerated capital cost recovery for federal income tax purposes; (c) to the extent not included in inventory or depreciable property, materials and supplies, including repair parts and fuel.5 The MBT Act does not define the term “materials and supplies.”6

Notably, the Department has consistently maintained a position that the term “materials and supplies” only applies to tangible personal property, as evidenced by Departmental guidance, including FAQs.7 However, several taxpayers have challenged this interpretation, including some addressed by the Michigan Tax Tribunal and the Michigan Court of Claims. In Plastic Surgery Associates, PC v. Department of Treasury, the Tax Tribunal held that a taxpayer’s purchase of drugs, implants and office supplies constituted “materials and supplies” that may be included as purchases from other firms.8 Most recently, in Andrie Inc. v. Department of Treasury, the Court of Claims held that the Department’s interpretation of “materials and supplies” in its FAQs was inconsistent with the statutory language.9 According to the Court, to qualify for deduction from the tax base, the “materials and supplies” must be “ordinary, necessary expenses actually consumed and used within the tax year in the carrying on of a trade or business.” While these cases are not precedential or binding on courts,10 they reflect a more expansive view of the term “materials and supplies” than the Department’s conception of the term. Based on this interpretation, as well as the findings in Andrie and Plastic Surgery Associates, some taxpayers have maintained that the term “materials and supplies” applies to ordinary and necessary expenses that are both tangible and intangible in nature, particularly with respect to expenses incurred by taxpayers that facilitated day-to-day business operations.

The taxpayer at issue, Total Armored Car Services, Inc. (TAC), filed MBT returns claiming a substantial materials and supplies deduction. Following an audit, the Department determined that TAC underpaid its taxes by $144,924 during the 2009-11 tax years, part of which was related to the composition of the “materials and supplies” deduction.11 According to the audit report, the materials and supplies deductions taken in the 2010 tax year included the cost of “repairs and maintenance, gas and oil, parts, rental equipment, lease contract, outside courier services, contract labor and purchased transportation.” The Department concluded that costs related to “operating leases, contract labor, purchased transportation and outside courier services” were intangible in nature and improperly included in the category, which resulted in an adjustment to TAC’s 2010 and 2011 tax years. TAC challenged the findings in the Michigan Tax Tribunal, which granted summary disposition in favor of the Department.12 TAC appealed the Tribunal’s decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Michigan Court of Appeals The Department, consistent with its official position, asserted that the “materials and supplies” deduction solely includes items related to tangible personal property and disallowed the portion of the deduction related to the taxpayer’s intangible expenses. In its analysis to ascertain the original intent of the legislation, the Court of Appeals first turned to the overall statute at issue. Focusing on the entire deduction, the Court noted that, based on plain language and when read as a whole, the statute implies that “materials and supplies” only refers to tangible personal property (which includes inventory, depreciable assets and other materials and supplies). Further, the Court cited the dictionary definition of “materials and supplies,” noting that the MBT Act does not define these terms. Specifically, “material” is defined as “relating to, derived from, or consisting of matter,” and “being of a physical or worldly nature.”13 “Supplies” are defined as “provisions” or “stores.” 14 Finally, the Court stated that the “qualifying clause immediately following ‘materials and supplies’ – ‘including repair parts and fuel’ – indicates an intent to limit ‘materials and supplies’ to tangible property.” 15 Accordingly, the Court determined that the type of property included in the definition of “materials and supplies” is limited to tangible items. Thus, the taxpayer’s intangible expenses at issue were properly excluded from the deduction by the Department.

Commentary This decision by the Court of Appeals clarifies an ongoing point of contention between taxpayers and the Department. Although the case is for publication and stands as precedent for stare decisis, there are other pending cases focused on the same issue. If the Court of Appeals comes to a different conclusion in one of the other cases, Michigan court rules maintain that a prior published decision will have precedent over a subsequent decision.16 For this case to lose its precedential treatment, it would have to be overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court or by a special panel of the Court of Appeals that rehears the case and comes to a different determination. 

With Michigan’s four-year statute of limitations and the repeal of the MBT in 2012, the opportunity for most taxpayers to challenge the definition of “materials and supplies” under the statute at issue has expired, though taxpayers with outstanding audits can and often do raise this issue. As the specter of litigation on this issue does not appear to be going away any time soon based on pending Court of Appeals cases, it remains to be seen whether these cases consider the treatment of capitalized assets such as rent or leases that may qualify as materials and supplies under the IRC definition of the term, or the treatment of other items that were not specifically addressed in this matter.

1 Total Armored Car Service, Inc. v Department of Treasury, Michigan Court of Appeals, No. 340495, July 24, 2018.
2 Notice to Taxpayers Regarding “Materials and Supplies” Under the Michigan Business Tax Act, Michigan Department of Treasury, June 9, 2017. For further information, see GT SALT Alert: Michigan Issues Guidance on “Materials and Supplies” Deduction for MBT Purposes.
3 MICH. COMP. LAWS §§ 208.1201; 208.1203. The MBT was replaced by a corporate income tax for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2012. MICH. COMP. LAWS §§ 206.601 et seq. The BIT base was calculated by taking federal taxable income and applying several state-specific additions and subtractions before apportionment. The MGRT base consisted of a taxpayer’s gross receipts less “purchases from other firms” before apportionment.
4 MICH. COMP. LAWS § 208.1203.
5 MICH. COMP. LAWS § 208.1113(6) (emphasis added).
6 Treasury Update, Michigan Department of Treasury, March 2017.
7 Michigan Business Tax Frequently Asked Questions M4, M37 and M67, and Notice to Taxpayers Regarding “Materials and Supplies” Under the Michigan Business Tax Act, Michigan Department of Treasury, June 9, 2017.
8 Michigan Tax Tribunal, No. 16-000011, Nov. 15, 2016. See GT SALT Alert: Michigan Tax Tribunal Finds Drugs, Implants and Office Supplies Constitute “Materials and Supplies” for MBT Purposes.
9 Michigan Court of Claims, No. 15-000153-MT, Jan. 24, 2017. In support of its holding, the Court of Claims relied upon Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 162(a), concerning deductions for business expenses.
10 MICH. COMP. LAWS § 205.765; MICH. COURT RULES § 7.215(C).
11 It should be noted that another portion of the underpayment at issue arose with respect to the calculation of the employee compensation credit provided in MICH. COMP. LAWS § 208.1403(2). Furthermore, the taxpayer had claimed at the Michigan Tax Tribunal that it had erroneously filed its taxes as part of a unitary business group with seven sister corporations but that it actually counted as a single tax entity pursuant to LaBelle Mgmt., Inc. v. Michigan Dept. of Treasury, 888 N.W.2d 260 (Mich. Ct. App. 2016). The Michigan Court of Appeals denied the taxpayer’s challenges on both of these issues.
12 Total Armored Car Service, Inc. v Department of Treasury, Michigan Tax Tribunal, LC No. 16–003017–TT, July 13, 2017.
14 Id. at p. 1256.
15 To reach this conclusion, the Court relied upon the statutory construction doctrine known as ejusdem generis, where a general term follows a series of specific terms, the general term is interpreted to include only things of the same kind, class, character, or nature as those specifically enumerated. Citing Neal v. Wilkes, 685 N.W.2d 648 (Mich. 2004).
16 MICH. COURT RULES § 7.215(J)(1).

This content supports Grant Thornton LLP’s marketing of professional services and is not written tax advice directed at the particular facts and circumstances of any person. If you are interested in the topics presented herein, we encourage you to contact us or an independent tax professional to discuss their potential application to your particular situation. Nothing herein shall be construed as imposing a limitation on any person from disclosing the tax treatment or tax structure of any matter addressed herein. To the extent this content may be considered to contain written tax advice, any written advice contained in, forwarded with or attached to this content is not intended by Grant Thornton LLP to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code.

The information contained herein is general in nature and is based on authorities that are subject to change. It is not, and should not be construed as, accounting, legal or tax advice provided by Grant Thornton LLP to the reader. This material may not be applicable to, or suitable for, the reader’s specific circumstances or needs and may require consideration of tax and nontax factors not described herein. Contact Grant Thornton LLP or other tax professionals prior to taking any action based upon this information. Changes in tax laws or other factors could affect, on a prospective or retroactive basis, the information contained herein; Grant Thornton LLP assumes no obligation to inform the reader of any such changes. All references to “Section,” “Sec.,” or “§” refer to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.