Woman Sues Rite Aid for 12 Cents

She filed a class action suit after being overcharged sales tax.

By LeAnne Gendreau
|  Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011  |  Updated 6:50 AM EDT
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A Manchester bargain shopper took Rite Aid all the way to the state appellate court over 12 cents.

After investing time and court fees into the case, she lost, but her attorney said this was about much more than getting back change. It was a fight on behalf of everyone in Connecticut who is overtaxed and does not have the time or necessary documentation to fight to be reimbursed.

Pamela Blass went to a Rite Aid on May 15, 2008 and bought four 99-cent items, according to court records.

Her purchases rang up to $3.96. But, Blass had two $1 coupons, which brought her total down to $1.96.

Rite Aid charged 24 cents in sales tax, based on the $3.96, instead of 12 cents based on the actual sale price.

Eight months later, Blass filed a complaint, accusing Rite Aid of unfair and deceptive trade practices for not basing the taxes on the post-coupon prices.

Rite Aid filed to dismiss the suit, saying the court lacked the subject matter over the claim because Blass did not exhaust her administrative remedies.

The lower court decided in favor of Rite Aid because Blass never attempted any “administrative remedies” and instead took the case to court.

Blass continued to fight by filing a potential class action suit, said attorney Peter Van Dyke, who represented Blass.

She took on the fees to file a complaint in Superior Court, pay a marshal to serve the complaint and file appeal. It was for the principle.

“Rite Aid had overcharged her sales tax that they had no right to charge and collect. Even though it was 12 cents to her, it represents a much larger sum of money to everyone in Connecticut that was over charged by Rite Aid,” Van Dyke said. “The State of Connecticut is enriched by all the money Rite Aid stole from these consumers.”

And this amount can exceed $100,000, Van Dyke said.

The appellate court also decided that Blass had administrative options to recoup the money.

“The purpose behind this was to seek recovery on behalf of everybody in Connecticut,” Van Dyke said.

Right now, according to officials from the state Department of Revenue services, taxes are to be applied after the discount, but there is a proposal in the state Legislature to apply the tax to the original pre-discounted price.

When a company charges too much in taxes, the Department of Revenue recommends that people go back to merchant within 90 days, with the receipt, and request a refund.

Otherwise, they can go to the state and apply for a rebate or refund. But, they do need proof of purchase to recover the money.

The commissioner of Revenue Services can issue a refund, the brief says. But, the commissioner cannot award punitive damages, attorney and court fees or injunctive relief, Van Dyke wrote in his brief. The other issue, Van Dyke said, is that many people do not hold on their receipts.

“It would serve no useful purpose to engage in further discussion of the issues,” the court opinion states.

NBC Connecticut left a message with Rite Aid and has not heard back about their sales tax policy.

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