Orbitz, Maupintour off the hook in Fairview Heights

Steve Korris Apr. 24, 2008, 6:41am

Richard Burke

Judge Herndon

EAST ST. LOUIS – Fairview Heights has abandoned its claim that travel agencies Orbitz and Maupintour owe the city taxes on hotel rooms they booked.

The city moved on April 3 to dismiss Orbitz and Maupintour from a suit before U.S. District Judge David Herndon in East St. Louis.

"This voluntary dismissal is not the result of any agreement or the compromise of any claim," wrote Richard Burke of St. Louis, one of six attorneys representing the city.

Orbitz, the prime target among 14 defendants, apparently didn't expect the news.

Thirteen days after the city filed its motion, Robert Shultz of Edwardsville wrote to Herndon that Orbitz did not object to the motion.

Herndon dismissed Orbitz and Maupintour on April 21.

Orbitz and Maupintour leave the scene after two and a half years, without anyone from the city ever telling them how much they allegedly owed.

Fairview Heights filed the suit in October 2005, in St. Clair County circuit court.

City attorney Al Paulson set out on an ambitious course, proposing a class action to recover room taxes not only for Fairview Heights but also for 49 other Illinois cities.

Defendants removed the suit to federal court.

The city's plan broke down last fall when defendants drew a distinction between cities that impose use taxes on rooms and those that impose occupation taxes.

Defendants argued that if Herndon drew the same distinction, he would discover that Fairview Heights didn't belong to the class it sought to represent.

Richard Burke of St. Louis, leading a team of private class action attorneys working with Paulson, tried to slip a new class definition into a reply brief.

Burke's ploy achieved nothing except to confirm the defense argument.

Herndon canceled a hearing on the city's class certification motion, and on March 31 he denied the motion.

His decision dropped the other 49 cities from the suit but it does not prevent Fairview Heights from pursuing its own claims.

The city continues to seek back taxes from Lodging.com, Hotels.com, priceline, Expedia, Hotwire, Cheaptickets, Travelport Americas, Lowestfare, priceline, Site59, Travelocity and Travelweb.

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