For more than a decade, state and local governments have pursued claims against online travel companies (OTCs) like Priceline, Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia for nonpayment of occupancy, rental and other taxes the plaintiffs claim they are owed. Despite having tax codes often written long before the internet existed, the plaintiff municipalities, Departments of Revenue and state attorneys general seek to impose their lodging taxes on online travel companies for the additional amounts the OTCs charge and retain as compensation for their online services. Many of the actions across the country, including State of New Hampshire v. Priceline.com et al, also involve common law and Consumer Protection Act claims with multimillion-dollar statutory penalties.
State of New Hampshire v. Priceline.com et al was filed in 2013. For the four-and-a-half years leading up to trial, Bradley led the defense effort for Priceline and its co-defendants. These efforts included conducting all discovery; drafting and arguing all critical motions; and preparing the case for trial.
The case provided opportunities for the Bradley team to address creatively the challenges of preparing a case for trial while also coordinating the defense of additional administrative proceedings and state and federal litigation across the country. The State of New Hampshire was represented by the state attorney general’s office and outside contingency fee counsel who have filed similar claims across the country.
With Bradley’s attorneys at the lead, State of New Hampshire v. Priceline.com was tried during the first two weeks of May 2017 in the New Hampshire Superior Court. Bradley’s trial team consisted of Anne Marie Seibel, Jennifer McGahey, Tiffany deGruy and Blair Bullock.
Seibel was lead trial lawyer for the joint defense group and effectively crossed the state’s most crucial witness, as well as conducting other witness examinations. Other team members conducted a number of witness examinations, including of critical third-party witnesses, and provided outstanding trial support in this complex trial.
After post-trial briefing, the trial court rendered a comprehensive 29-page opinion, finding for the defendant online travel companies on all claims. The state appealed the trial court’s judgment, and the team was assisted by appellate lawyer Anna Manasco for briefing on appeal. In January 2019, Seibel argued in front of the Supreme Court of the State of New Hampshire, which affirmed the trial court’s decision in its entirety on March 8, 2019.
This victory came in only the second case to be tried to judgment in the more than 10-year history of this litigation. It is a critical win for Priceline and other online travel companies that continue to face state and local governments seeking to use litigation to increase their tax revenue.