On May 19, 2020, Pamela A. Van Blunk and her colleague Donald J. Weiss presented before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court—which were held online due to the public health crisis and statewide closures—on the issue of whether a sign and sign structure exclusion forecloses consideration of income that a property owner receives via ground rent or easement in a determination of the income-producing property’s fair market value for purposes of real estate tax assessment when the tenant is the owner of a billboard. Ms. Van Blunk presented the constitutional analysis while Mr. Weiss presented the statutory construction analysis.
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Unites States Constitution mandates that no State shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” which requires that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that “all taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects” and the class of subjects entitled to uniform treatment in a tax assessment appeal is all real estate. When there is no legitimate distinction between the classes of taxpayers and the tax imposed imposes substantially unequal tax burdens upon taxpayers otherwise similarly situated, the tax is unconstitutional. Ms. Van Blunk argued that a tax cannot impose substantially different tax burdens on similarly situated taxpayers based solely on who the third party lessee is.
To view a recording of the argument before the Supreme Court, please click here.