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Supreme Court upholds former Colt's 'jock tax' victory

November 9, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the city of Cleveland over its formula for taxing visiting professional athletes for their work in the city.

The decision upholds a court victory by retired Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and ex-Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who sued Cleveland in 2014.

The justices on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that said the city's method of taxing athletes based on the share of all their games that are played in Cleveland violates players' due process rights.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the city must assess taxes based on players' Cleveland work as a share of their total number of working days per year, not just their games, as is common elsewhere.

The ruling said the city unfairly imposed a 2 percent income tax on Saturday and Hillenmeyer.

The city argued the appeal to the nation's high court was necessary because of the decision's widespread implications.

Hillenmeyer and Saturday sued the city’s tax board last year, challenging payments they made from 2004 to 2006 and in 2008, respectively.

Saturday, a six-time Pro Bowl center who played 13 years with the Colts and won a Super Bowl in 2007 before finishing his career with the Green Bay Packers in 2012, argued that he should not have been taxed because he was injured and didn’t travel to Cleveland for a 2008 game.

He was still hit with a $3,594 tax because of city regulations that count payments an employer makes to a sick and absent employee.

Cleveland lacked the authority to tax Saturday’s income, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in April.

The court also criticized the city’s method for calculating taxes, noting that other municipalities and states, including Ohio, that have chosen to tax professional athletes do so based on days worked.

Hillenmeyer, a linebacker for the Bears for eight seasons, said instead of using a “games-played” calculation, Cleveland should determine taxes by dividing days worked in the city by total work days in a season.

The city calculated his taxable income for a 2006 preseason game as $162,002, based on his $3.2 million total salary for 20 games that year, according to papers Hillenmeyer filed with the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals.

The state, using a different method, calculated the taxable income for his time in Cleveland as $38,557, according to a court filing.

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