Appeals lawsuit rejected
Two years ago we wrote of a lawsuit that was filed regarding a taxing body’s appeal of a home value based on a sale price. The home was purchased in the City of Pittsburgh in November 2015 for $750,000 and at that time had an assessed value of $464,700. The appeal, brought by Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), was heard and the county’s Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review (BPAAR) raised the assessed value to $690,000. With a combined millage rate of 22.63 mills (unchanged for county, city and PPS in the entire time period) the change in property tax bill would be $5,098 annually.
Soon after a lawsuit on the BPAAR ruling—which was expanded to a class action one by the home buyers to act on behalf of all property owners who were appealed based on sales price—went to Common Pleas Court, which upheld the BPAAR decision in March 2018. The case then climbed to Commonwealth Court, which rendered its decision last week. It upheld the lower court’s decision with a slight modification that the plaintiffs did not exhaust all remedies available under the Second Class County Assessment Law.
The court noted that the law gives BPAAR the power to hear all assessment related complaints, and when the BPAAR did not provide the relief the property owners were seeking, the appeal went to Board of Viewers (BOV) within Common Pleas Court, where it still is pending. In fact, the attorneys for the city noted that it is possible the BOV might rule in the owners’ favor and reduce the BPAAR decision. Per the ruling, “A party may not seek judicial resolution of a dispute until he or she has exhausted available statutory or administrative remedies.”
The court also noted that the nature of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all taxpayers who may have had their assessed values raised was inappropriate due to the individual nature of the case in which a taxpayer is seeking a refund.
The plaintiffs will take the case to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the parties in the over 6,000 appeals heard in Allegheny County in 2018 are dealing with their results and the county still shows no indication it will carry out an update of the 2012 base year values. The General Assembly isn’t forcing them, or any other counties, to do so either.