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Case Foreclosed: Tax Injunction Act Bars Federal Court Challenge to Tax Foreclosure Proceeding

By Maria Todorova and Jack Trachtenberg

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled that the Tax Injunction Act

April 5, 2013

By Maria Todorova and Jack Trachtenberg

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled that the Tax Injunction Act (TIA) served as a jurisdictional bar, depriving the court of subject matter jurisdiction in a case involving claims of a discriminatory real property foreclosure proceeding and unpaid property taxes. The taxpayers challenging the foreclosure used the real property for religious activities and claimed they filed three applications seeking tax-exempt status for the parcel. The county, however, reassessed the parcel’s value on the grounds that it had received only one application for a tax exemption, which was untimely. The reassessment resulted in a tax foreclosure proceeding in which the trial court entered a judgment against the taxpayers for the real property taxes owed. The taxpayers appealed to federal district court alleging, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court held that subject matter jurisdiction was lacking under the TIA because the taxpayers were actually challenging a foreclosure proceeding brought to collect a tax liability despite the fact their action was styled as a discrimination suit under the ADA and section 1983. The court further explained that the TIA applied because the taxpayers could have availed themselves of multiple “plain, speedy, and efficient” remedies under state law, including administrative and judicial appeal procedures for challenging tax valuations. This case is a good reminder that the federal courts often interpret the TIA broadly, and taxpayers are likely to continue the uphill jurisdictional battle to bringing a challenge in federal court, regardless of the type of claims asserted, where the ultimate relief sought is to inhibit the assessment, levy or collection of tax under state law. Heskett v. Athens County, No. 2:11-CV-00890 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 19, 2013).

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