A Superior Court judge today approved a new scheduling order in Columbus’ long-running lawsuit against the online travel company Expedia. Attorneys for both sides met with Judge William C. Rumer this morning and agreed to a series of deadlines that would extend the six-year-old case well into the summer.
Expedia wants the case dismissed and has until April 30 to file a motion for summary judgment. The city will have two months to respond in writing. Rumer will hear oral arguments Aug. 7 if the case is not resolved before then.
The status conference was the first before Rumer, who inherited the litigation last year after Judge Doug Pullen resigned amid a judicial misconduct investigation. Rumer had allotted each side several hours to update him on unresolved issues.
But the parties stipulated last week to withdraw motions that had been pending before Pullen, wiping the slate clean for Rumer in a prolonged and convoluted case. Today's hearing instead lasted less than half an hour, with attorneys whispering at sidebar with Rumer for several minutes.
“There is nothing now pending in front of Your Honor that needs to be dealt with,” said Wally Walker, an attorney for the city who spoke of “good meetings with new counsel” and a "fresh perspective" in the case after years of legal wrangling.
Columbus and Expedia have been squabbling over lodging taxes since 2006.
Pullen issued a permanent injunction against Expedia in 2008, ruling the company must collect taxes based on the amount it charges customers for hotel rooms instead of the rate negotiated with hotels.
Expedia has not done business in Columbus since 2008, and has de-listed the city’s hotels from its website. The company has paid the city more than $55,000 to satisfy claims for back taxes and interest.
But Columbus last summer filed an amended lawsuit suing the company for breach of trust. The city claims Expedia still owes the taxes and interest because it hasn’t acknowledged the payment amounted to taxes owed under the law.
Attorneys for the city also have sought attorneys' fees believed to be in the millions of dollars. City officials last year revealed the terms of a contingency fee agreement, saying the city would split any attorneys’ fees with outside counsel.
Rumer was not the only new face on the case this morning. One of three attorneys appearing on behalf of Expedia was Joe D. Whitley, a former assistant district attorney in Columbus who had an extensive career in the Department of Justice before returning to private practice.