TAMPA — Ralph Fisher’s pepperoni and mushroom pizza cost 12 cents too much. He sued.
Fisher, an attorney in Lutz, filed a lawsuit March 24 in Hillsborough Circuit Court against Pizza Hut of America contending the chain’s restaurants illegally charged an extra 1 percent sales tax in Hillsborough.
The Florida Supreme Court voided the penny on the dollar transportation surtax in a Feb. 25 ruling that became final March 15. The following day, the state Department of Revenue instructed approximately 35,000 businesses in Hillsborough County to stop collecting the tax.
The Tampa Bay Times reported March 23 that some retailers had been slow to restore the tax to 7.5 percent. Three customers had lodged complaints with the county’s consumer protection office.
Fisher’s lawsuit seeks class action status on behalf of others who may have been charged the extra tax improperly. His suggested solution is for Pizza Hut to lower its prices temporarily until any ill-gotten windfall is exhausted.
“I have no animosity toward the people who work there (in the restaurant) , but I think when an edict gets put down by the Florida Supreme Court and the Department of Revenue tells you you’ve got to stop collecting the illegal tax, I would call that serious, and it should be adhered to,” Fisher said Tuesday.
The disputed transaction took place March 22. Fisher said he bought a $12 pizza to share among his office staff and noticed the restaurant, at 17420 N. U.S. Highway 41 in Lutz, charged him 8.5 percent sales tax. He said he pointed out the discrepancy and asked for the difference to be refunded, but an employee told him “they were required to charge the improper 8.5 percent sales tax by the corporate office,” according to the suit.
Fisher said the worker told him, " ‘I have to collect the money they tell me to collect.’ "
Tuesday, a restaurant employee referred questions to the Pizza Hut corporate office in Plano, Texas. The company’s headquarters did not immediately respond to a voicemail message seeking comment.
Businesses collected the voter-approved sales tax for transportation beginning Jan. 1, 2019, and should have stopped once the state Supreme Court became final March 15. The question of refunding more than one-half billion dollars collected over 27 months remains in litigation.
Fisher suggested other businesses should lower their prices to repay any sales tax they overcharged since March 15.
“It’s the failure to care about the community for these large corporations who obviously don’t care about Hillsborough County and the people of Hillsborough County they claim to be serving with their consumer products. Guess what? This is wrong.”