January 8, 2016
Christopher P. Finney has been pleased to serve as one of three attorneys in the case of Fred Sanborn et al v. The Board of Education of the Indian Hill Exempted Village School District, et al.. This case is featured in a thorough analysis in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer.
As the story relates, the case is in part about the tremendous persistence of an 87-year old lead Plaintiff, Fred Sanborn, who doggedly researched and pursued the reversal of an illegal tax exacted by the Indian Hill School District and in part about the creative legal skills of Maurice Thompson and the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.
The Finney Law Firm entered the case after the Ohio Supreme Court victory was secured, in a second action that ended up before Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Martin to certify the class of taxpayers deserving a refund and to process the refund of the illegal-collected monies from the School District. Paul DeMarco of Markovitz, Stock and DeMarco provided invaluable assistance in the class action proceeding as well.
The initial question before the Ohio Supreme Court addressed a statute that allows a school district to raise additional revenue without a vote of the people in limited circumstances there the revenue was “clearly required.” Cynically, the Indian Hill School Board in 2009 attempted to effectuate the tax hike even though they held a $24 million surplus at the time. Thompson and the 1851 Center argued that either the words in the statute have meaning in restraining the discretion of the School Board, or they do not. The Supreme Court decided that the statute had real teeth and determined that the School Board’s enactment of the tax was illegal.
The victory will result in a handsome tax refund for current and former property owners in the Indian Hill School District, but also stands as important precedent that clips the wings of Ohio School Boards seeking an un-voted tax increase that is not “clearly required.” Boards of Education in Ohio are no longer able to ignore the clear language of the statute narrowly limiting the discretion to enact such a tax.
Additionally, Thompson had the prescience six years ago to concurrently commence a second action in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to certify a class for purposes of fulfilling complex statutory requirements that would secure taxpayer rights to a refund upon the completion of the Supreme Court proceeding. This was required because Ohio law is fairly hostile to taxpayers seeking retroactive refund of taxes, even those that clearly are illegal. These dual suits show the incredibly sophisticated legal battlefield, filled with landmines, that Plaintiffs faced.
This saga is really an heroic tale of both dogged citizen activism and enormous legal talent, mostly by Thompson and 1851. We are proud to have played a small part in this important victory for taxpayers.