Walgreens sued over allegedly collecting soda tax on unsweetened …

A Schaumburg man is suing Walgreens for allegedly wrongly charging Cook County’s new sweetened beverage tax on unsweetened sparkling water.

The lawsuit, filed Friday by Vincent De Leon, comes days after the county’s penny-per-ounce tax took effect.

The tax went into effect Wednesday and applies to nonalcoholic beverages that are either sugar- or artificially sweetened, including fountain drinks as well as bottled and canned beverages.

LaCroix and similar flavored bubbly waters, such as Perrier and Soleil, aren’t supposed to be taxed because they’re not sweetened.

But some retailers experienced snafus in implementing the tax. Walgreens, for example, said last week that it “inadvertently coded” some products incorrectly, but that it was “working to resolve this complex issue as soon as possible.”

De Leon is seeking a jury trial and class-action status for his lawsuit, which was filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

“Even the architect of the tax, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, recently tweeted that unsweetened beverages are not subject to the pop tax,” says the lawsuit, which includes a screen grab of her tweet.

“Walgreens has publicly admitted it is wrongly charging the pop tax on unsweetened beverages — and yet it continues to do so without informing customers that they are being wrongly charged,” the lawsuit says. “Despite knowing that it has improperly coded its products, Walgreens has not taken any steps to provide corrections at the cash register.”

De Leon’s lawsuit says he bought Dasani Tropical Pineapple Sparkling Water, labeled as unsweetened, from a Walgreens store in Hoffman Estates on Friday and was charged the sweetened beverage tax.

The lawsuit also says a Walgreens store in Western Springs charged the tax on a case of Dasani Black Cherry Sparkling Water that was labeled as unsweetened. The lawsuit included photos of the water and the receipt. The drugstore chain also charged the sweetened beverage tax on Lipton Pure Leaf Unsweetened Green Tea, the lawsuit says.

Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, a state appeals court on Monday denied a request from a group of retailers to put the controversial tax on hold once again.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association sued the county in June, alleging the tax is unconstitutional and too vague to implement. The legal battle delayed the tax for a month.

Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak dismissed the suit July 28 and dissolved a temporary restraining order that blocked implementation of the tax. But the merchants group is appealing the ruling and asked the appeals court to reinstate the court order blocking the tax.

Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said county officials “applaud the appellate court’s decision.”

“We believe this was the appropriate action by the court, and we appreciate the quick action by the justices,” Shuftan said.


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