Court Denies Tax Petition Appeal

OCEAN CITY — There was some measure of closure this week in a case seeking a “roll back” of Ocean City’s property tax rates to 2009 levels when Maryland’s highest court on Wednesday denied what will likely be a final appeal attempt.

Last June, a group operating under the guise of the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ) submitted to the Mayor and Council a petition containing nearly 1,500 signatures essentially seeking a return of the property tax rate from the current 48 cents per $100 of assessed value to 38 cents, or the rate at which it was set in 2009. The petition sought a referendum within 90 days of its filing, or the next scheduled election, which would have been the general election this November.

The town then filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the OCTSJ and petition organizer Tony Christ in Worcester County Circuit Court, seeking a judicial review of the validity of the petition and its attempts to launch a referendum on the tax rollback effort.

Anticipating the town’s move, Christ along with three other named plaintiffs including John Medlin, Herb Pawlukewicz and former Ocean City Councilman filed a complaint in federal court seeking a habeas corpus hearing in U.S. District Court.

In April, the U.S. District Court judge ruled favorably on Ocean City’s motion to dismiss the case at the federal level, citing lack of jurisdiction, and remanded the case back to Worcester County Circuit Court. Later in April, a Worcester County Circuit Court judge ruled favorably on the council’s motion for summary judgment, essentially dismissing the case. Undaunted, however, Christ and the OCTSJ filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Maryland Court of Appeals asking the state’s highest court to take up the case. On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals denied the request from Christ and the OCTSJ and dismissed the appeal attempt.

“It is ordered by the Court of Appeals of Maryland that the petition be, and it is hereby, denied as there has been no showing that review by certiorari is desirable and in the public interest,” Court of Appeals Judge Mary Ellen Barbera’s two-sentence order released on Wednesday reads.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres said on Thursday the Court of Appeals ruling on the OCTSJ’s appeal attempt should bring closure to the case that went from Worcester to federal court and back again.

“I am pleased,” he said. “I advised the Mayor and Council from the beginning the petition to amend the charter would require them to break state law and the courts at every level have agree all along the way.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.