In a final judgment entry released April 16, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell found that members of a class-action lawsuit against the county claiming they were overcharged on their property taxes in 2009, 2010 and 2011 are owed $3.9 million in restitution, plus more than $870,000 in interest. Of that amount, the judge ruled the plaintiffs’ attorneys should be paid 50 percent of it, for a total of nearly $2.4 million. The county has appealed this ruling and the final determination will play out in the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals.

What Happened?

Every six years, Cuyahoga county undergoes a property reappraisal. In 2006, a business owner by the name of Mark Musial’s had an office that was appraised at $679,500 which he paid taxes on in 2006 and 2007. After the housing collapse shortly thereafter, over 20,000 taxpayers went to the Cuyahoga County Board of Revision and challenged the value of their property. That is when Musial requested a reduction, setting off a chain of events that Judge O’Donnell wrote “was not unique.” About 3,000 property owners won a reduction of their 2008 property values, then had their pre-revision values used in a 2009 appraisal, he wrote. Ultimately, he found that all class members were overcharged for the tax year 2009, and some continued to be overcharged in 2010 and 2011. With Mr. Musial filing a complaint, the board ended up reducing his property value from $679,500 to $499,000.

Judge O’Donnell had very strong words about the case saying, “There is nothing about the sequence of county government mistakes, false assurances, and omissions that would make it remotely fair to bar the plaintiff class members from getting refunds of their tax overpayments for 2009, 2010 and 2011,” he wrote. Ultimately, he determined Cuyahoga County was responsible for making restitution. He found the county had unjustly enriched itself and awarded a judgment to the plaintiffs.