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Laquer v. The Priceline Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 28, 2017

Richard LAQUER, individually and on behalf of all those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
The Priceline Group Inc., Defendant.


          Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Richard Laquer brings this action individually and on behalf of a putative class alleging unjust enrichment and misrepresentation in connection with Defendant's failure to refund amounts it charged to Plaintiffs credit card as "taxes" due on his car rental reservation made through Defendant's website where Plaintiff never picked up the rental car reserved for him. Defendant The Priceline Group ("Priceline") now moves [Doc. # 48] to dismiss the complaint.[1]For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is granted.

         I. Factual Allegations

         On June 2, 2015 Richard Laquer, a resident of Oklahoma, used the Defendant's website to reserve a rental car in San Francisco for June 7, 2015, but he never showed up to rent the car on that date. (First Amended Complaint ("Compl") [Doc. # 69] ¶¶ 1, 11, 14, 17.) Mr. Laquer used Defendant's "Name Your Own Price" feature to bid $35.00 on the rental, resulting in a reservation for a car from Hertz at the San Francisco International Airport. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) On the same day Mr. Laquer reserved the vehicle, Priceline charged Mr. Laquer $54.05 for this reservation, which Plaintiff alleges included a $19.05 charge for "Taxes and Fees" and $35.00 for the daily rental of the vehicle. (Id. ¶f 14.) Although Mr. Laquer never picked up the vehicle, Defendant did not refund any portion of the $54.05 to Mr. Laquer, and it did not remit to the State of California (or to any other local, state or federal authority) any part of the charge for "Taxes and Fees." (Id. ¶¶ 17, 21-22.) Hertz likewise did not refund any part of this charge to Mr. Laquer, and he alleges on information and belief that Priceline did not require Hertz to pay any part of the $19.05 to the State of California. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.)

         Mr. Laquer does not allege that Priceline failed to transmit to Hertz any portion of the "Taxes and Fees." He does not allege that he ever requested a refund from Priceline or from Hertz, and he does not allege that he has requested a refund from the California Board of Equalization. II. Discussion Before attacking the legal sufficiency of Plaintiffs pleadings, Defendant moves to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), arguing that Plaintiff lacks both Article III and prudential standing. Because the Court agrees that Mr. Laquer lacks prudential standing, it will dismiss on this ground.[2]

         The Supreme Court has "established that the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119L.Ed.2d351(1992).A

party must demonstrate that (1) it has suffered an injury in fact that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. The 'injury in fact' requirement has been characterized as an invasion of a legally protected interest.

Green Island Power Auth. v. F.E.R.C, 577 F.3d 148, 159 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted).[3] As laid out in the discussion of prudential standing below, Plaintiffs allegation of an injury in fact fails because California law treats incorrectly collected use taxes as debts to the state, and any injury resulting from such improper collection by Priceline would belong to California.

         "The prudential limitations on jurisdiction require that a plaintiff establish that he or she is the proper proponent of the rights asserted; a litigant may not raise the rights of a third-party, or assert speculative, conjectural or generalized grievances more appropriately resolved by a governmental body, other than the courts." New York State Nat. Org. for Women v. Terry, 886 F.2d 1339, 1346-47 (2d Cir.1989); Am. Psychiatric Assoc, v. Anthem Health Plans, 50 F.Supp.3d 157, 162 (D. Conn. 2014J, affd sub nom. Am. Psychiatric Ass'n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 821 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 2016)

         Although courts in this Circuit have found that overpayment of taxes and fees to online retailers can constitute economic injury to consumers sufficient for Article III standing, where states establish comprehensive regulatory frameworks that place the power to determine whether and how much tax is owed and to enforce payment of that tax in the hands of a tax authority, courts have dismissed claims by persons seeking to recoup taxes because they lack prudential standing. Compare Chiste v. L.P., 756 F.Supp.2d 382, 410 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) ("[Plaintiffs] economic injury accrued at the time he paid the allegedly excess taxes, the service fees, and was charged the higher Retail Rate for his hotel reservation") with Twp. of Lyndhurst, N.J. v. Inc., 657 F.3d 148 (3d Cir. 2011) (affirming that plaintiff lacked prudential standing because "the State legislature conditioned Lyndhurst's right to enact a local hotel occupancy tax on a specific enforcement regime-one where the [Tax Department] Director was the exclusive decision-maker charged with determining the amount of tax due and then collecting the related revenue.") (emphasis in original).

         Mr. Laquer argues that he has standing because Priceline injured him when it did not refund the taxes it collected even though Mr. Laquer never consummated the car rental: "Plaintiffs core allegation [is that] there was never any tax due for any cancelled reservation. Nevertheless, Priceline charged a 'tax' (that was never due), and Plaintiff alleges that Priceline took these 'tax dollars and put them in its pocket." (Mem. Opp'n [Doc. # 58] at 2.) Defendant responds that it is California, rather than Plaintiff, who suffered any injury: "to the extent any taxes were not paid, it is the State of California that was injured and has standing to assert those claims-not Laquer." (Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss [Doc. # 49] at 12.)

         In his complaint, Mr. Laquer alleges that "it is illegal under the law of the United States, or of any individual state or subdivision, for a vendor to collect a tax and then neither remit it to the taxing authority nor refund it to the customer." (Compl. ¶ 18.) He reiterates this point in his first count for unjust enrichment: "Priceline Group, in charging 'Taxes and Fees' for a rental or purchase transactions that did not complete, violated various local, state and Federal law regarding the charge and collection of taxes." (Id. ¶ 36.)

         As an example of a law Priceline allegedly violated, Mr. Laquer cites California Revenue & Tax Code § 6204:

The tax required to be collected by the retailer and any amount unreturned to the customer which is not tax but was collected from the customer under the representation by the retailer that it was tax ...

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