Ohio Tax Commissioner’s Wrong Filing Instructions Creates Ambiguity

While we’re talking about the Board of Tax Appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court last week, on the 23rd.,ruled that a company can choose how it will appeal a final personal property tax assessment by the State Tax Commissioner to the State Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) when the commissioner issues a final assessment but mistakenly encloses instructions about how to appeal a preliminary assessment.

After Crown Communications filed its 2006 Ohio property tax return, the Court’s news service background the case, the Ohio Department of Taxation notified it that it had established a preliminary valuation of their property that was higher than they believed was supported by generally accepted valuation standards in the wireless communications industry, and in May 2009, Crown received an official notice of final assessment for the 2006 tax year, instructing it that if it wished to appeal the commissioner’s assessment, it had to follow appeal procedures set forth in a separate instruction sheet that was enclosed. Although a final assessment by the tax commissioner has to be  appealed to the BTA within 60 days, Crown’s tax representative subsequently produced a copy of the instructions that she swore were enclosed with Crown’s May 22, 2009 notice incorrectly instructing Crown to file a petition for reassessment for further review by the commissioner, rather than filing a notice of appeal at the BTA, within 60 days.

Following those instructions, the tax representative prepared and sent a reassessment petition to the tax commissioner’s office which was stamped as received by the commissioner 11 days before the expiration of the appeal period. Neither Crown nor the tax representative was notified before the expiration of the appeal period that the notice of appeal had been directed to the wrong office. In September 2009, after the expiration of the 60-day appeal period, the commissioner’s office issued a final determination stating that it could not process Crown’s appeal of the final assessment for 2006 because only the BTA had jurisdiction to hear appeals of a final assessment.

The unanimous decision, authored by Justice Sharon L. Kennedy, determined that the BTA erred when it concluded that Crown Castle GT and Crown Communications Inc made a fatal procedural error by appealing an assessment to the commissioner instead of to the BTA within the required time frame. The Supreme Court reversed the BTA’s decision, remanded the case to the commissioner to address the assessment on the merits, and stated that Crown will still have the right to appeal that decision to the BTA.

Text of Opinion