Tag Archives: current agricultural use valuation

Lawsuit alleging Ohio overcharged farmers for CAUV must be brought in Ohio Court of Claims

Last month a lawsuit about Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) calculation showed back up on our radar.  As we explain in another blog post, the state of Ohio uses CAUV to calculate how much tax owners of land devoted exclusively to an agricultural use must pay.  The plaintiffs sought reimbursements from the state by arguing that the state failed to properly calculate CAUV in accordance with Ohio law.  The case was dismissed by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, and the 10th District Court of Appeals affirmed that decision as appropriate.  However, that does not necessarily spell the end for these plaintiffs.

What started the lawsuit: good times meant higher taxes

Many farmland owners likely remember what happened around the middle of this decade to property tax assessments under Ohio’s CAUV formula as it was calculated at that time.  In part because Ohio’s CAUV assessment formula takes agricultural commodity prices into account, a couple of strong years for crop prices contributed to a drastic and generally unanticipated increase in property tax bills for farmers across the state.  Those assessment increases led to a successful effort to change the CAUV formula so that drastic fluctuations would be less likely to occur moving forward.  However, some property owners wanted a reimbursement for previous assessments, not just a new formula.

What the plaintiffs wanted: equitable restitution

The case began on June 26, 2015, when three parties filed a complaint in a county court of common pleas against the state tax commissioner.  The three plaintiffs sought a class action certification to act on behalf of all owners of Ohio lands devoted to agricultural production.  The complaint alleged that the state of Ohio illegally collected more than a billion dollars of property taxes from those owners.  Therefore, the landowners first sought repayment under the legal doctrine of unjust enrichment.

Over the next few months, the plaintiffs amended their complaint twice.  The first amended complaint added a claim for repayment under the doctrine of equitable restitution.  It also added more named plaintiffs, added then-Governor Kasich as a defendant, and asked for compensatory damages.  The second amended complaint removed the Governor and tax commissioner as defendants, added the state of Ohio as a defendant, and removed all claims except for equitable restitution and a declaratory judgment.  Lots of adjustments, but what is equitable restitution?

Equitable restitution is a type of recovery under the law that says one party has improperly benefitted at the expense of another, and therefore should return the benefit to its rightful owner.  Here, the plaintiffs argued that allegedly illegal CAUV collections meant that the state of Ohio had improperly benefitted at the expense of owners of CAUV lands.  Therefore, the state of Ohio should have to return that benefit, which would mean a return of the property tax overpayments.

However, there are two types of restitution under the law: legal and equitable.  Legal restitution is available when a plaintiff cannot assert a right of possession to a particular property but is nonetheless able to shows grounds for compensation from the defendant.  When money is involved, the distinction is largely based upon whether money clearly identifiable as belonging to the plaintiff can be traced to particular funds in the defendant’s possession.  If the money can be traced to particular funds, then equitable restitution is more likely to apply.

For example, say that a plaintiff gave a defendant a five dollar bill, but something goes wrong and the plaintiff wants her money back.  The plaintiff may have an equitable remedy if she seeks the return of that specific five dollar bill.  However, she may only have a legal remedy if she simply wants five dollars back.  This distinction played an important role in the outcome of this case.

Why the case was dismissed: lack of jurisdiction

The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed because the common pleas court determined that it could not hear the case because of the nature of the remedy sought.  Instead, in ruling on the state’s motion to dismiss, the common pleas court decided, and the appellate court affirmed, that only the Ohio Court of Claims has jurisdiction for this type of case.

The Ohio Court of Claims is a special kind of state court that exists primarily to handle lawsuits against the state of Ohio.  Its existence stems from the idea in the U.S. Constitution’s Eleventh Amendment that states have immunity as sovereigns.  States may choose if and when to be sued; however, most have waived that immunity to some extent.  Ohio chose to partially waive its sovereign immunity in particular types of cases by allowing people to sue it in a special court instead of in a county court of common pleas.

When it created the Ohio Court of Claims, the Ohio General Assembly decided that people seeking relief at law must file their lawsuit with the Ohio Court of Claims, while those seeking equitable relief may file their lawsuit with a county court of common pleas.

Restitution happens to be a type of remedy that can be classified as either legal or equitable in nature.  The focus is not on what the parties call the restitution they seek, but what they actually want from it.  In this case, it was not enough that the plaintiffs called what they wanted “equitable restitution.”  The court only cared about what the plaintiffs actually sought.

In looking at the facts, the court determined that the plaintiffs sought the return of funds that could not be traceable into any state account, and therefore the remedy sought was legal in nature.  The court explained that Ohio’s property taxes are collected and held at the county level, and there was no evidence that the CAUV property tax collected by the counties ever made it to the state.  Absent this transfer, the specific tax dollars that the plaintiffs allege were wrongfully paid to the state were not traceable to any state accounts.  Without this traceable link, the plaintiffs could only seek a return of money in general, rather than the return of specific funds.  Because of this, only the Ohio Court of Claims could hear this case and award this remedy.

It was on the basis of this distinction that the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas dismissed the case, and that the Tenth District Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

What are the plaintiffs’ next steps: Ohio Court of Claims or the end?

The trial court dismissed the case “without prejudice,” meaning that the parties are not barred from filing the case again in a proper court.  This can be common when the case is dismissed on a procedural basis where there could be a claim with some merit that has neither been decided on the merits nor settled.  At this time, it does not appear that the plaintiffs have refiled the case in the Ohio Court of Claims, and we cannot predict whether or not they will do so.

The case is cited as Vance v. State, 2019-Ohio-1027 (10th Dist.), and the opinion is available on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website HERE.

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Ohio Supreme Court rules that landowners can challenge CAUV values before the Board of Tax Appeals

Decisions announced today by the Ohio Supreme Court will allow landowners to challenge Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) land values established by Ohio’s tax commissioner by appealing the values to the Board of Tax Appeals.

Twin rulings in cases filed by a group of owners of woodland enrolled in CAUV, Adams v. Testa, clarify that when the tax commissioner develops tables that propose CAUV values for different types of farmland, holds a public hearing on the values and adopts the final values by journal entry, the tax commissioner’s actions constitute a “final determination” that a landowner may immediately appeal to the Board of Tax Appeals.   The Board of Tax Appeals had argued that the adoption of values is not a final determination and therefore is not one that a landowner may appeal to the Board.

The tax commissioner forwards the CAUV tables to the county auditors, who must use the values for a three year period.  An inability to appeal the values when established by the tax commissioner would mean that a landowner must wait until individual CAUV tax values are calculated by the county auditor, who relies upon the tax commissioner’s values to calculate the county values.    As a result of today’s decision, landowners may appeal the values as soon as the tax commissioner releases them.

The landowners also claimed that the process and rules for establishing the CAUV values are unreasonable and not legal.  However, the Court rejected those claims.

For an excellent summary of the Adams v. Testa cases by Court News Ohio, follow this link.

 

 

 

 

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CAUV Changes Pass as Governor Signs Budget Bill

Written by Chris Hogan, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Governor Kasich signed HB 49 on June 30, 2017, otherwise known as Ohio’s Operating Budget. In addition to setting the budget for various agencies, HB 49 changes how farmland is valued under Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Value program. HB 49 changes Ohio Revised Code Sec. 5715.01. The overall effect of the changes will likely be a downward trend in property tax valuation for Ohio farmers.

The budget bill prescribes the method for determining CAUV value for land devoted to agricultural use. The law requires appraisal methods to reflect and consider the following:

  • standard and modern appraisal techniques that take into consideration the productivity of the soil under normal management practices;
  • typical cropping and land use patterns;
  • the average price patterns of the crops and products produced;
  • typical production costs to determine the net income potential to be capitalized; and
  • other pertinent factors.

Under HB 49, the Tax Commissioner must annually determine and announce the capitalization rate used to compute CAUV values. The bill directs the Tax Commissioner to use standard and modern appraisal techniques in determining the land capitalization rate to be applied to the net income potential from agricultural use. In determining this yearly rate, the Commissioner must use an equity yield rate equal to the greater of the average of the total rates of return on farm equity for the last 25 years (as published by USDA), or the loan interest rate the Commissioner uses for that year to calculate the capitalization rate. The Tax Commissioner is required to assume that the holding period for agricultural land is twenty-five years for computing buildup of equity or appreciation with respect to that land.

HB 49 requires that land used in conservation programs be valued at the lowest soil productivity type. However, if land devoted to a conservation program ceases to be used for conservation purposes within three years of certification, the land will be valued at its actual soil type for all preceding years.

The Tax Commissioner must publish an annual report of CAUV values that can be sorted by county and by school district. The changes to CAUV begin in 2017, starting with counties undergoing reappraisal for the 2017 tax year. The budget bill, as signed by the Governor, is here—see page 2145 of that document for the changes to CAUV.

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Ohio Legislature Continues to Consider Two Separate CAUV Bills

Written by Chris Hogan, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Two separate bills concerning CAUV continue to be debated in the Ohio Legislature: Senate Bill 36 and House Bill 49. Ohioans may see changes to the CAUV program, if either bill passes the Legislature. Both bills aim to address rising CAUV rates for Ohio farmers. SB 36 changes the CAUV formula, making alterations to the capitalization rate and addressing the rate used for conservation land values. SB 36 passed in the Senate and is under consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee. The other bill that would address CAUV values—HB 49, is Ohio’s bi-annual budget bill. HB 49 similarly addresses Ohio’s rising CAUV values through proposed changes to the CAUV capitalization rate.

The difference between the two bills is that the budget bill will undoubtedly pass. That being said, the budget bill’s CAUV provisions may be cut from the final version.  On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the House will pass SB 36. There are several scenarios that may occur regarding the two CAUV bills in the Ohio Legislature.

Scenario #1: HB 49 (the Budget Bill) Passes with CAUV Provisions Included

In an earlier post, we explained  HB 49’s proposed changes to the CAUV program. HB 49 proposes changes to the CAUV program similar to those proposed in the standalone CAUV bill, SB 36. Although HB 49 currently contains amendments to the CAUV program, it is subject to change.

Passing a budget bill is a long and complex process.  Budget bills must start in the Ohio House of Representatives. The main purpose of a budget bill is to set the state’s operating budget, but such a bill may also include changes to Ohio laws. After the House passes a budget bill, the bill goes to the Ohio Senate. The Senate can pass the bill as written by the House, or the Senate may amend the bill and send their amended version back to the House.

The Senate passed their amended version of HB 49 on June 21. However, the House did not agree with the amendments. Therefore, the Senate and the House will soon hold a conference committee where both houses will meet and settle the differences between the two bills. Ohio’s budget is based on a fiscal year which ends on June 30. If passed, a new budget will go into effect July 1, 2017. Ohioans may soon learn if the state’s budget bill will enact changes to the CAUV program.

Scenario #2: SB 36 Passes and Changes the CAUV Program

Ohioans will soon find out if changes to the CAUV formula will be passed as part of HB 49. However, the CAUV provisions of HB 49 could still be removed before the bill passes. If CAUV changes are not passed via the budget bill, the CAUV formula could still be altered via SB 36.

SB 36 recently passed the Ohio Senate and is currently under consideration by the Ohio House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would make changes to Ohio’s CAUV formula, including the capitalization rate calculation and the rate used for calculating the value of conservation lands. For more information on SB 36, see our earlier blog post here.

The Ohio House can consider SB 36 until the end of the legislative session. The current legislative session ends on December 31, 2018. The House Ways and Means Committee may vote on SB 36 before the end of the session, or the bill could expire if it does not leave the committee before the end of the session.

The Legislature will soon meet in a conference committee to try and reach a consensus on the budget bill. HB 49 could pass as written or in an amended form that does not include any changes to CAUV. SB 36 may pass as written or amended as well. Conversely, it is plausible that neither bill could pass.

Read S.B. 36 as amended here.  The Legislative Service Commission’s summary of the bill is here. The most recent version of HB 49, as amended by the Senate, is here.

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Ohio Senate Passes CAUV Bill

Ohio’s Senate has settled on its solution for fixing Ohio’s CAUV formula. The Senate unanimously passed S.B. 36  yesterday after the Senate Ways and Means Committee adopted two amendments to the bill.  The legislation aims to stem recent increases in property taxes for farmland enrolled in Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program.   The Senate’s bill will ensure that the CAUV formula “sticks to valuing farmland based on agricultural production,” stated the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cliff Hite (R-Findlay).

In addition to including new factors in the CAUV formula,  making changes to the capitalization rate calculation and addressing rates used for conservation lands (explained in detail in our earlier post on S.B. 36), the bill passed by the Senate yesterday contained two new provisions:

  • A three year phase-in of the changes to the CAUV formula, which would begin the first tax year after 2016 in which a county’s sexennial appraisal or triennial update occurs.  The purpose of the phase-in is to reduce the financial impact of lowered property valuations on school districts.
  • Replacement of the seven year rolling average determination of the equity yield rate with an equity yield rate that equals the 25-year average of the “total rate of return on farm equity” determined by the United States Department of Agriculture but that cannot exceed the loan interest rate used in the debt factor of the capitalization rate computation.

Last week, Ohio’s House passed legislation containing different solutions for revising the CAUV program in H.B. 49 (see our summary of H.B. 49 here).  Senate leaders yesterday indicated a willingness to work with the House to resolve the differences between the two bills.  H.B. 49 is now before the Senate Finance Committee.

Read S.B. 36 as amended here.  The Legislative Service Commmission’s summary of the bill is here.

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CAUV Changes Proposed Again, This Time in the State’s Budget Bill

Written by Chris Hogan, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The Ohio legislature continues to consider Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) this session. However, the latest discussion is not of Senate Bill 36, introduced by Senator Cliff Hite on February 7, 2017 (read more about that bill here).  Instead, the current discussion centers on a new proposal in House Bill 49, Ohio’s “budget bill.”  The House Finance Committee is currently considering that bill.

The budget bill proposal would require the equity yield rate used in the CAUV capitalization rate to equal the greater of the 25-year average of the total rate of return on farm equity published by the USDA or the loan interest rate.  The capitalization rate is used to calculate a valuation from an annual profit for an average Ohio farm, considering only agricultural factors.   The bill also proposes a holding period of 25 years for calculating equity build-up and land value appreciation in the formula.

The budget bill proposal also places a ceiling on the taxable value of CAUV land used for conservation purposes by requiring land to be valued as though it included the least productive soil.  The proposed changes to the CAUV program would be phased in over two reassessment update cycles.  The bill would also reconcile the proposed changes with the current formula by specifying that during the first three-year cycle in each county (beginning with tax year 2017), the tax value of CAUV land would include one half of the difference between its value under the new versus the old formula.

Time may soon tell whether Ohio lawmakers will address the agricultural community’s concerns about property tax increases and if so, whether it will prefer the House’s budget bill or the Senate’s proposal.   The budget bill is available here–see page 652 of that document for the changes to the CAUV formula.  The Senate’s bill, which has received four hearings before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is available here.

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CAUV Bills Awaiting Committee Action

Legislation proposing changes to Ohio’s current agricultural use valuation (CAUV) program has remained on hold in the General Assembly since last fall.  To read this post, visit our new blog site at aglaw.osu.edu/blog.

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