In Colonial School District v. Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals, No. 530 CD 2019, the Commonwealth Court recently held that it can review the trial court’s denial of taxpayer’s motion to dismiss, which was based on alleged constitutional violations of selective targeting of commercial properties, as a collateral order (under Pa.R.A.P. 313(a)).
In deciding whether the trial court’s denial was immediately appealable, it looked to Rule 313(a), which authorizes “an appeal as of right from a collateral order” of a lower court. A collateral order is essentially (a) separable from the main cause of action; (b) involves a right too important to be denied review; and (c) presents a claim that will be lost if review is postponed until final judgment in the case. All three elements must be met to be considered a collateral order.
The Commonwealth Court found that the taxpayer’s constitutional claim is separable from the merits of the the school district’s tax appeal challenging the property’s assessment value. Next, the court found that taxpayer’s constitutional issue involves an important question. Specifically, the court found that the question of whether the school district treated different property sub-classifications in a disparate manner in violation of the Uniformity Clause is important. Finally, the court found that the interlocutory appeal is necessary because the taxpayer would incur a substantial cost in litigation if review of its constitutional claim is postponed until the school district’s valuation appeal is resolved. The court noted that if it declined immediate review, taxpayer would be forced to proceed with the school district’s valuation appeal that encompasses multiple tax years before ever reaching its constitutional claim.
Because all three elements of Rule 313(a) were met, the Commonwealth Court held that it had jurisdiction over the trial court’s order as a collateral order.
The court then reviewed the merits of taxpayer’s appeal and vacated the trial court’s order because it relied on factual findings not supported by the substantial evidence and remanded for further proceedings.