Alleged Overcharge of Sales Tax on Food Triggers Missouri Lawsuits

By Chuck Hatfield

Several putative class action lawsuits have recently been filed in the city of St. Louis alleging retailers have overcharged sales tax for certain food items. These suits seek refunds of payments made by consumers, punitive damages and attorneys' fees. Under Missouri law, food items that are eligible for purchase with food stamps are generally subject to a lower sales tax rate. The lawsuits allege retailers have instead charged the higher general sales tax rate, unjustly enriching themselves and violating Missouri consumer laws.

These particular claims are new to Missouri, although sales tax overcharge issues have been litigated in the past. It is not yet clear whether consumers can maintain an action against retailers for sales tax overcharges, but successful lawsuits would result in an unfair situation for retailers who have already paid the Missouri Department of Revenue the sales taxes collected.

Retailers faced with these claims should carefully analyze their sales tax practices. If a retailer determines that sales tax has been overcharged, the retailer may be entitled to a refund from the Missouri Department of Revenue. Claims for sales tax refund are subject to a statute of limitations, so they should be filed as soon as possible. If a retailer is ultimately found liable for sales tax charges, receiving a refund of these taxes from the state would significantly mitigate the damages.

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