A Philadelphia judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the city against 17 online travel services, contending they failed to pay the full hotel-occupancy tax for booking hotel rooms in Philadelphia.

Common Pleas Court Judge Howland W. Abramson ruled the city should seek relief from the Tax Review Board, and not the court, if the city believes it is owed more taxes by online travel services.

The judge did not comment on whether the allegations had merit, only that the court was not the appropriate place to turn for initial tax collections.

In July, the city sued the online travel brokers - including Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Priceline, Cheaptickets and Travelocity - claiming they have failed to pay a fair share of hotel tax dollars. The online travel clearinghouses contract with hotels for rooms at discounted rates and then sell the rooms to the public at marked-up rates.

The suit alleged the agencies collected and paid less than the city's 7 percent hotel tax based on discounted room prices, rather than higher rates charged to consumers.

In tossing out the suit, Abramson wrote: "This court is troubled by the fact that it does not appear that the city ever performed an audit, provided notice, or attempted to collect the tax from defendants, other than by filing the instant lawsuit.

"It is the function of the court system to resolve legal disputes; its role is not to levy or collect taxes (absent an appeal)," the judge wrote. "This court is not in the business of original tax collections, nor should it be."

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