Cleveland’s ‘Jock Tax’ |Held Unconstitutional

     (CN) – Cleveland’s method of assessing a “jock tax” on NFL players who visit the city to play its Browns is unconstitutional because it violates the athletes’ due process rights, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
     In a unanimous decision, handed down April 30, the court said Cleveland applies a tax regime that is fundamentally different from those in other cities that have an NFL franchise.
     The case involved Hunter Hillenmeyer, who played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 2003 to 2010. He asked for a refund of taxes that were withheld from his paycheck when he played on the road in Cleveland in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
     Hillenmeyer and the Bears spent two days in Cleveland for each of the three games. They arrived on the day before the game and left town immediately afterwards.
     In his challenge to the city’s so-called “jock tax,” Hillenmeyer claimed Cleveland’s allocation ratio for determining how much a visiting player should pay was “illegal, erroneous and unconstitutional.”
     He based his contention on a comparison of how many games the Bears against how many games they play throughout the preseason and regular season. That ratio is usually one in 20 — before one even included spring mini-camp and summer training camp, he said.
     But the city’s Central Collection Agency and the state’s Board of Tax Appeals ruled against Hillenmeyer’s claims.
     He then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which, in a unanimous opinion, finally gave him the victory he sought.
     In doing so, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger noted that other taxing municipalities in the NFL divide the number of games a player is in town by the number of overall duty days rather than by the number of games.
     Lanzinger agreed with Hillenmeyer that Cleveland’s tax method was unconstitutional, violating his due process rights.
     Lanzinger added that Cleveland’s method taxed 5 percent of Hillenmeyer’s income for two days in Cleveland. The “duty-days” method would result in a tax of 1.25 percent.
     “The games-played method reaches income for work that was performed outside of Cleveland, and thus Cleveland’s income tax violates due process as applied to NFL players such as Hillenmeyer,” she wrote.
     She added that the duty-days method provides due process, and that Hillenmeyer is entitled to a refund.
     On the same day, the Ohio Supreme Court also ruled against Cleveland’s “jock tax” in a case involving Jeff Saturday, a former center for the Indianapolis Colts.
     In that case, Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote that Saturday should not have been taxed for a 2008 game against the Cleveland Browns because he was and did not accompany the Colts when they visited the city.
     Representatives of Cleveland’s Central Collection Agency could not immediately be reached for comment.

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