Ohio quietly eliminates automatic right to appeal decisions of Board of Tax Appeals to Ohio Supreme Court

Property owners concerned over potentially inconsistent rulings

A significant but little-noticed change to Ohio's tax appeals procedures (Section 5717.04 of the Ohio Revised Code) quietly went into effect this fall. Ohio taxpayers no longer have the automatic right of appeal to, and review by, the Ohio Supreme Court from the final decisions of the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals (BTA). Rather than an automatic appeal to the Supreme Court, taxpayers must now appeal a BTA decision to the appropriate District Court of Appeals where the property or taxpayer are located.

Because property owners had virtually no notice that this change in Ohio law was coming, they had no chance to mobilize to oppose it. Property owners are deeply — and understandably — concerned that this change will result in numerous inconsistent rulings on the same issue of tax law among the 12 appellate districts. Property owners and business groups also fear that this amendment will materially increase the legal fees and costs of property tax appeals.

Supporters of this amendment point out that, in non-tax cases, the possibility already exists of inconsistent rulings on the same legal issues among Ohio's appellate courts. The Supreme Court exists to reach out and take in a case to resolve conflicting rulings on the same legal question among the 12 appellate courts.

Under the revised law, once the appeal from the BTA lands in one of the appellate courts, a party to the appeal can ask the Supreme Court to take up the appeal — before the appellate court decides the case — if the case raises a significant new issue of law, a substantial constitutional question or a question of great general or public interest. Supreme Court review of an appeal from the BTA, either before or after a court of appeals decides the appeal on the merits, will be on a purely discretionary, not automatic, basis — depending on how the Supreme Court views the significance of the legal issues raised by the appeal.

The Supreme Court lobbied the General Assembly for this major change in Ohio's tax appeal procedures. With an automatic right of appeal from the BTA to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court felt inundated with numerous property tax appeals which did not raise important or novel legal questions. Apparently, the Supreme Court did not want to referee numerous battles of competing appraisers arguing about what a property was worth, i.e., fair market value, if the appeal did not raise any significant legal issue.

This amendment will shift many cases to Ohio's courts of appeals. Each one will need to prepare for the additional case load — especially in staffing-up court-annexed mediation programs.

—Matthew T. Fitzsimmons