United States: Tax Assessment Case Proves School Districts Maintain Broad Rights

With real estate assessments receiving increased attention, particularly in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania filed an interesting opinion on March 8, 2013, written by Judge Robert Simpson, in the case of Guntram Weissenberger d/b/a Blackhawk Circle Apartments v. Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals and Downingtown Area School District. The decision will not provide much encouragement to property owners concerned about their exposure to increased real estate tax assessments.

The Downingtown Area School District participated in an organization known as the Chester County School District Managers. That group hired a real estate appraisal firm to review the market values and assessments for all apartment complexes in Chester County, Pennsylvania, for the 2004 Tax Year (note that this decision – issued in 2013 – addresses a tax assessment from nine years prior). The Commonwealth Court noted that the consultant was hired to evaluate a different class of properties each year, one year looking at shopping centers, then apartment complexes, with other categories of properties to be reviewed in subsequent years.

The consultants identified six apartment complexes that were under-assessed in Chester County. The report indicated that five of the total six under-assessed complexes were in the Downingtown Area School District and two of these parcels, owned by Blackhawk Circle Apartments were significantly more valuable than the other under-assessed apartment complexes. So, the Downingtown Area School District made a "business decision" to appeal just the assessments for Blackhawk Circle Apartments and did not take any other assessment appeals that year for any other type of property, apartment complex or otherwise.

Following the appeal, the Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals increased each of the subject parcels by approximately $1 million, generating an additional tax bill of approximately $53,000. Blackhawk Circle Apartments filed an appeal contending that the increased assessments were in violation of the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution and that the method for selecting the properties to appeal was arbitrary and capricious. Eventually, the Chester County Court of Common Pleas agreed with the property owner, and ruled that the method used by the Downingtown Area School District to select the properties for appeal was unconstitutional. The Downingtown Area School District appealed that decision to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court summarized the taxpayer's argument that the appeal by the school district of the assessment demonstrated a selective and discriminatory application of its right of appeal by targeting apartment complexes, and particularly the Blackhawk Circle Apartment complex. In fact, the Blackhawk Circle Apartment complex was the only property subject to an assessment appeal by any school district in Chester County, despite claims that other apartment complexes were under-assessed. In its discussion, the Commonwealth Court noted that the taxpayer did not argue that its properties were over-assessed, and did not dispute the increased value assigned to its property. The only grounds for the appeal were that the taxpayer's property had been singled out in contravention of the uniformity clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which provides that "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," and that the method of selecting the apartment complex assessment for appeal was "arbitrary and capricious."

The Commonwealth Court quickly dismissed the claim that the decision to appeal was "arbitrary and capricious." The Commonwealth Court deferred to the decision of the Downingtown Area School District to focus its efforts on an appeal that would generate significantly increased tax revenue, noting that "judicious use of resources to legally increase revenue is a legitimate governmental purpose."

The taxpayer also apparently left a gap in its case by asserting that other properties within the Downingtown Area School District were under-assessed, but failing to prove that other under-assessed properties were similarly situated to its own properties. The Commonwealth Court confirmed prior case law that in making uniformity arguments, an aggrieved taxpayer must first establish the various valuations at issue and subsequently show how disparate assessments violate the uniformity requirements. The Commonwealth Court confirmed that the Downingtown Area School District's had the statutory right to initiate assessment appeals and that filing such an appeal does not constitute an impermissible spot assessment. The existing case law allows for a methodology that narrows the class of properties that may be evaluated for appeal based on financial and economic thresholds and doing so does not, as a matter of law, show purposeful discrimination.

The majority decision was joined by four of the five judges on The Commonwealth Court panel. A single dissent by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt focused on the fact that Blackhawk Circle Apartments had been singled out and that its competitors continued to be under-assessed. As a result, Judge Leavitt believed the school district had not complied with the prevailing requirement that similarly situated taxpayers should not be deliberately treated differently by taxing authorities. The competitive disadvantage faced by Blackhawk Circle Apartments, in the opinion of Judge Leavitt, was the precise result prohibited by the uniformity clause, and she concluded that the Chester County Common Pleas Court decision should be affirmed.

The lesson for taxpayers is that the protection provided by the uniformity clause is not always as broad as they would like, and that school districts maintain broad rights to appeal assessments that are too low in the opinion of the districts.

Origially published by In the Zone

View the entire May 2013 issue of In the Zone

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.