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Hillsborough sales tax lawsuits move on from pizza to banana splits

The legal claims say businesses collected an 8.5 percent tax after the Florida Supreme Court voided the transportation surtax.
A lawyer has dropped his suit against Pizza Hut over charging an 8.5 percent sales tax after the Florida Supreme Court had voided the Hillsborough transportation surtax. However, similar suits ae pending over sales taxes paid by customers purchasing banana splits and oil changes at separate businesses.
A lawyer has dropped his suit against Pizza Hut over charging an 8.5 percent sales tax after the Florida Supreme Court had voided the Hillsborough transportation surtax. However, similar suits ae pending over sales taxes paid by customers purchasing banana splits and oil changes at separate businesses.
Published Jun. 1
Updated Jun. 1

The legal fight over a 12-cent surcharge on a pizza has ended, but a banana split battle is now pending in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The desserts’ disputed cost? Eight cents.

The allegations are the same. The lawsuits contend businesses in Hillsborough County continued to charge an 8.5 percent sales tax rate after a Florida Supreme Court order voided a penny-on-the-dollar tax for transportation.

“There was a lot of money collected illegally,” said attorney Ralph Fisher of Lutz.

Related: Pizza Hut sued over higher sales tax rate in Hillsborough

Fisher sued the Pizza Hut chain after a restaurant in Lutz charged the higher sales tax rate on a $12 pepperoni and mushroom pizza he purchased March 22. Fischer said he pointed out the discrepancy and asked for the difference to be refunded. An employee told him “they were required to charge the improper 8.5 percent sales tax by the corporate office,” according to the suit.

But Fisher dropped the claim May 24, saying it wasn’t worth pursuing the case because of U.S. Bankruptcy Court entanglements involving former Pizza Hut franchisee NPC International Inc.

“You have to know when to fold,” Fisher said Tuesday.

Businesses collected the voter-approved sales tax for transportation beginning Jan. 1, 2019, and should have ceased March 15, when the state Supreme Court order became final. On March 16, the state Department of Revenue instructed approximately 35,000 businesses in Hillsborough County to stop collecting the tax. But some were slow to comply.

Related: Overcharged? Some Hillsborough businesses slow to lower sales tax rate

The Tampa Bay Times reported March 23 that some businesses still charged the incorrect sales tax rate. At the time, the county’s consumer protection office said it had forwarded three cases to the state Department of Revenue after customers complained the businesses were charging excessive sales tax.

Fisher and attorney Jay P. Lechner now represent two other clients suing businesses over the sale tax charges.

In one case, a man named Ronald B. Harrison said he paid too much tax after purchasing two banana splits at DQ Grill & Chill Riverview on April 26.

J. Derek Kantaskas, attorney for restaurant owner, Courtney’s Treat Store LLC, said his client “does not comment on ongoing litigation, particularly one of a frivolous nature.”

“Like any other business in the state, Courtney’s Treat Store collects the sales tax and sends each and every cent collected to the state of Florida,” Kantaskas said in a statement.

The disputed transaction totaled eight cents, he told the Times. The company filed a motion to dismiss the suit last week.

Related: Hillsborough sales tax refund pitched to court

In another suit, plaintiff Michael Nunez sued the North Carolina-based corporate office of Take 5 Oil Change after he said he paid 8.5 percent sales tax on an April 8 oil change service at a branch on Gunn Highway.

Nunez, according to the suit, noticed the improper tax amount after he left the service station. When he called seeking a refund an employee told him to “take it up with corporate.”

The unspent sales tax revenue collected by businesses for nearly 27 months totaled more than $521 million by mid-April. Its fate is subject to separate litigation.