|By Ben Wright, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer,
Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 9, 2009 - A motion was filed Thursday in Muscogee County Superior Court seeking an injunction to force Expedia Inc. to start relisting Columbus hotels on its Web site and quit claiming hotels are located in Columbus when they are actually in Phenix City.
"We hope they will do the right thing," said attorney Trip Tomlinson of Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison and Norwood in Columbus. The firm is representing the city of Columbus.
The city of Columbus won a decision in June from the Georgia Supreme Court, which agreed the city is owed lodging taxes on the amount a customer pays for a room instead of the cheaper room rate paid by the Web site. A similar ruling from the state's high court was issued Monday for the city in its lawsuit against hotels.com.
Columbus hotels were delisted from expedia.com and other travel Web sites after the city filed suit in 2006. Customers seeking a hotel in Columbus on expedia.com are now directed to hotels in Phenix City but the site states the businesses are located in Columbus.
"This misrepresentation is part of Expedia's malicious effort to punish Columbus for enforcing its tax laws, even after the Supreme Court of Georgia has affirmed this court's decision that hotel occupancy taxes must be collected from consumers and remitted to Columbus based on the retail room rate Expedia charges its customers," the motion states.
Tomlinson said Expedia Inc. has 30 days to respond to the motion. A hearing before Judge Doug Pullen may occur by mid-November or early December, he said.
"We have asked for a hearing as quickly as we can get one," Tomlinson said.
Attorney Jerry A. Buchanan of Buchanan & Land LLP represents Expedia Inc. but he was out of the office and unavailable for comment late Thursday.
In the court documents, Tomlinson filed an affidavit that shows how expedia.com diverts searchers to hotels in Alabama but misrepresents the businesses location in Columbus. The motion also contains three contracts Expedia has with hotels in Columbus that generally provide that the company list hotels on its Web site.
"These contracts also provide for contract termination in certain circumstances and in accordance with certain procedures," the motion states. "Plaintiff Columbus is not aware of any change in these contracts or of any proper terminations."
To note the cost of delisting Columbus hotels on the site, Tomlinson submitted results of an economic impact study commissioned by Pezold Management, the operator of Marriott Columbus Hotel downtown and three other hotels. The report, compiled by two Columbus State University professors, showed that Columbus lost $1.3 million in tax revenue in the last fiscal year, including $724,276 that would have been collected in hotel occupancy tax and another $633,741 in retail tax.
Tracy Sayers of Pezold Management said Thursday the hotel operators are the unintended consequences of the action. "The Internet sells more rooms than any other source," he said.
Since the delisting of Columbus hotels to July 31, 2009, Tomlinson seeks an equitable amount of money the city should have received if rooms had been booked in Columbus. Similar court action may be filed with other travel sites.
"We have to file something in each case," Tomlinson said. "We will decide to do that in the next few days."
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