Selective property tax appeals based on property type or residency status of the owner violates the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Uniformity Clause

by Tucker Arensberg, P.C.
Contact

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently reversed the Commonwealth Court and held that the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not permit school districts to selectively appeal only the assessments of commercial properties, such as apartment complexes, while choosing not to appeal assessments of other types of property, such as single-family residential homes. Valley Forge Towers Apartments N, LP v. Upper Merion Area Sch. Dist., No. 49 MAP 2016, 2017 WL 2859007 (Pa. July 5, 2017).

In this case, the Upper Merion Area School District contracted with Keystone Realty (“Keystone”) to identify and recommend property assessments that the District should appeal.   Valley Forge Towers Apartments N, LP (“Valley Forge”) alleged that Keystone targeted commercial properties, including apartment buildings, but did not target residential properties for appeal.  Valley Forge alleged that this policy violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Uniformity Clause because it targeted a property type and/or the residency status of the property owner.

The Court acknowledged that school districts had the right to pursue administrative tax appeals pursuant to statutory assessment laws.  See, e.g., 53 Pa.C.S. § 8855 (Consolidated County Assessment Law).  However, the Court explained that assessment appeals authorized by statute must still comply with the Pennsylvania Constitution, including the Uniformity Clause.  That clause states: “All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.” Pa.Const. art. VIII, § 1.

Under the Uniformity Clause, all property in a taxing district is a single class and is entitled to uniform treatment.  Clifton v. Allegheny County, 969 A.2d 1197, 1212 (Pa. 2009).  But the Valley Forge Court found that the lower courts erred in concluding  different  treatment of certain property sub-classifications for appeal purposes was permissible if there was a rational basis for such treatment.  While it was without dispute that appeal polices could not be based on clearly wrongful conduct (e.g., racial discrimination), the Court explained that the prohibition against disparate treatment of any class or sub-class of property applies to any intentional or systematic enforcement of the tax laws.

Accordingly, the Court explained that school districts and other taxing authorities may not implement a systematic program of only appealing the assessments of one sub-classification of properties, when that sub-classification is drawn according to the residency status of the property owner or the property type.  In other words, one cannot constitutionally have a program based, for example, just on commercial properties, just on apartment complexes or just on single-family residential homes.

Though this is an important decision that could have widespread impacts on pending and future tax appeals, it should not be interpreted as invalidating all assessment appeal policies by school districts.  The Court explained that a particular appeal policy employed by a school district lies within its discretion, but courts will enforce the constitutional boundaries of any such policy.  In this case, the Court held that the Upper Merion School District’s policy of allegedly targeting properties based on the type and/or the residency status of their owners transgressed those boundaries.

The Court did explain that other approaches could withstand scrutiny.  Specifically, the Court implied that policies setting forth minimum thresholds for appeals, such as in In re Springfield Sch. Dist., 101 A.3d 835, 840 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2014), could withstand challenge.

Valley Forge is an important decision as it sets some guidelines on what tax appeal policies a public body may employ.  School districts should discuss this decision with their solicitors and review their policies of appealing property assessments to confirm that they comply with this decision.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Tucker Arensberg, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Tucker Arensberg, P.C.
Contact
more
less

Tucker Arensberg, P.C. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.