A class-action lawsuit has been launched by Columbia Falls Brewery and seven other businesses across the state, claiming that the Office of Montana’s Secretary of State (SOS) has been overcharging them by double-billing their business fees, all without their consent of knowledge.
Insisting that this is all one big “side hustle”, the suit names Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen as a defendant. They say the SOS office has been double charging customers for years and not notifying them of the error, accruing more than $120,000 in fees in the process. Jacobsen, they say, knew about the problems since 2019, and did nothing about it. The lawsuit reads in part:
“While businesses in Montana hung on by a thread as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, while other arms of government did all they could to route money to keep small businesses afloat, the Secretary of State’s Office was skimming—to the tune of more than $120,000 in fiscal year 2020. A lucrative side hustle, to say the least”
Columbia Falls Brewery is joined by Wicked Good Handyman Service, Purple Snow Promotional, Pine Street Rentals, Backslope Brewing, Essential Mountain Products, Black Dog Farm, and The Mental Health Update who acknowledge that the double charging was not malicious.
Instead, it was a result of a glitch in the system that would give payees a notification saying that their last attempt to pay did not go through, even though it did, prompting them to pay again. While it may not have been purposeful, it also wasn’t purposefully fixed.
The problem is compounded by the fact that in typical government inefficiency, even though they can take payments immediately and instantaneously, they are unable to issue refunds electronically.
Instead, the requests must be made in writing and can take up to a year to be refunded. With many of the charges being of relatively low value, frequently under $25, these are either not caught or are just shrugged off, as people don’t want to deal with the rigamarole and hassle of the whole process, given the hoops that must be jumped through.
While the Secretary of State’s office claims that these duplicates only happened for a few months last year and was quickly nipped in the bud, the suit alleges that it’s still going on to this day, arguing:
“Upon information and belief, the Secretary has continued to wrongfully retain overcharges from its customers through fiscal year 2021 and into fiscal year 2022.”