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Supreme Court weighs sales taxes on flowers

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State Supreme Court justices Thursday questioned attorneys in a battle about whether Florida should collect sales taxes on flowers ordered online and delivered in other states.

An appeals court last year ruled that it is unconstitutional for the state to try to collect the disputed sales taxes from a Palm Beach County company, American Business USA Corp., which takes online orders for flowers delivered outside Florida.

Justices raised a number of scenarios about when and where sales taxes should be collected.

"If it's out-of-state customer and out-of-state delivery … what's the nexus with Florida?'' asked Justice Barbara Pariente.

State Solicitor General Allen Winsor, representing the Department of Revenue, responded that the "nexus is the transaction" itself.

"The transaction is what is being taxed,'' Winsor said. "This is not a property tax on flowers."

Justices also asked numerous questions of Michael Sloan, an attorney for American Business USA. Sloan said the flowers never enter Florida and that sales are "consummated" where possession of flowers is transferred.

The 4th District Court of Appeal last year found that collecting the sales tax on flowers delivered outside of Florida violated what is known as the "dormant Commerce Clause" of the U.S. Constitution.

Broadly, that legal concept is aimed at preventing state actions that interfere with interstate commerce.

The Department of Revenue appealed to the Supreme Court, which typically takes months to rule after hearing arguments.