Blank Rome Team Secures Bench Trial Victory against School District of Philadelphia for Unconstitutional Tax Treatment of Commercial Property Owners
After four years of litigation, which included an appeal to the Commonwealth Court and a remand to the trial court, a Blank Rome team obtained a victory in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, representing the owners of 138 of the largest commercial properties in Philadelphia. The case, School District of Philadelphia v. Super Salvage, Inc., culminated with a two-day bench trial against the School District of Philadelphia for the School District’s unconstitutional real estate tax assessment practices for tax year 2017, which focused solely on high-valued commercial properties. Blank Rome’s cases were consolidated under the Super Salvage caption.
The court noted in its Opinion that “even the best plans fail if they are poorly executed” and found that sufficient evidence supported its original conclusion that the School District’s actions violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which requires that all taxes be imposed uniformly and without discrimination. In 2016, the School District implemented a new tax appeal policy by selectively appealing 138 decisions from the Board of Revision of Taxes of Philadelphia, focusing only on a fraction of commercial properties without appealing—or even reviewing—other property types, like single-family residential homes.
The court found that uncontroverted evidence demonstrated that at least 33 single-family residential properties satisfied the School District’s tax policy, and over 100 other properties also satisfied the policy “but were inexplicably disregarded….” Ultimately, the court held that the School District’s differential treatment of the commercial taxpayers could not be justified, faulting the School District for “failing to take the time to ensure that the taxing system was implemented in a non-discriminatory way.” The court therefore quashed the School District’s appeals, thereby voiding the School District’s challenges to the assessment values.
The Blank Rome team included Peter Kelsen, Larry Shtasel, Frank Crowley, Adam Laver, and Melanie Carter.