Writers sue Albemarle and Charlottesville over business license tax

CHARLOTTESVILLE and ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Two writers are suing the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County over a business license tax. They say it violates their constitutional rights.

Novelist Corban Addison, a Charlottesville resident, sued the city. Novelist John Hart, who lives in Albemarle, has sued the county. Both men are former attorneys and are represented by the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit civil rights organization.

According to the suits, both men received bills for business license taxes going back several years. They learned that newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations are exempt from the tax. The lawsuit says this discrepancy in treatment over speech violates their First Amendment rights.

The suit says the business license tax also violates their 14th Amendment rights because it doesn't clearly state what types of businesses will have to pay.

At a press conference announcing the lawsuits on Wednesday, Institute for Justice attorney Renee Flaherty explained that business license taxes are meant to defray the cost of infrastructure required to support business operations.

Hart said his work requires no infrastructure.

"I don't need parking spaces. I don't need anything,” he said. “I need my laptop and pure imagination, and that's how I make my living. That’s it. And I don't understand why the county thinks it's entitled to a piece of that."

Addison said he objects to the disparate treatment of writers.

"If the First Amendment means anything, it means that all authors, regardless of who we write for and what we write, should be taxed and subject to the same kind of laws,” Addison said. “We should be treated equally."

The lawsuits ask for the tax as it is written and applied in each locality to be declared unconstitutional. It also asks for the business license taxes the men have paid to be refunded.

Albemarle County and Charlottesville spokespeople declined to comment on pending litigation.

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