Frequently Asked Questions
- What was this lawsuit about?
- Why was this a class action?
- Why was there a Settlement?
- How do I know if I am a Class Member?
- What could I have expected to receive under the Settlement?
- What did I give up to be part of the Settlement?
- What happens if I did nothing at all?
- How could I have gotten a refund?
- What if I already submitted my claim for a refund, or submitted my claim for a refund prior to May 29, 2009?
- When will I get my refund?
- How could I have excluded myself from the Settlement?
- If I did not exclude myself, can I sue the Santa Clara Open Space Authority outside of this lawsuit?
- If I excluded myself, do I get a refund from the Settlement?
- Do I have a lawyer in this case?
- How were the lawyers paid?
- What is the difference between objecting and excluding?
- When and where did the Court decide to approve the Settlement?
- I have lost/failed to cash my check. I need my check to be reissued. What should I do?
- How do I get more information?
Between tax years 2002-03 and 2007-08, you may have paid - as part of your annual real estate tax bill - the District Two Assessment imposed by the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority.
The lawsuit claimed that the District Two Assessment violated the taxpayers’ constitutional rights. The California Supreme Court declared the assessment invalid, and the Authority ceased collecting the assessment on an ongoing basis. However, the Court did not rule on refunds, or other relief that might be due to taxpayers, or what defenses the Open Space Authority might have had to such claims of relief.
Class Representative Mary Thompson sued the Open Space Authority on behalf of a group or class of taxpayers who paid the District Two Assessment. These taxpayers are called Class Members. The Settlement resolved the claims of all Class Members except for those who excluded themselves.
The Court did not decide on taxpayer refunds or other relief that might be due to taxpayers from the invalid assessment. Instead, both sides agreed to a Settlement. In this way, they avoided the expense and risk of a trial and Class Members got compensation. The Class Representative and the taxpayers’ attorneys agree the Settlement is in the best interest of Class Members.
The Court determined that anyone who fits the following description is a Class Member: Any person who paid the District Two Assessment between 2002-03 and 2007-08. If you were a real estate taxpayer during this time who lived in the Open Space Authority’s territory within Santa Clara County, you probably paid this assessment and are a Class Member.
The Open Space Authority collected and kept the District Two Assessment in a fund while the lawsuit was going on. As of June 30, 2008, the fund had approximately $51,395,189 in collected assessments, plus $5,663,258 in accrued interest. Under the Settlement, taxpayer refunds, attorney’s fees, litigation expenses, and class administration expenses were paid from the fund. The Open Space Authority will retain the accrued interest and will keep any unclaimed money for open space and parklands preservation.
All Class Members who submitted timely and valid Refund Claims can expect to receive a full refund of their District Two Assessment payments. Class Members who submitted a claim before May 29, 2009 (“Prior Claim”), will receive a full refund of their District Two Assessment payments, plus interest on the Prior Claim at the rate of three percent (3%) from the date the claim was filed to May 29, 2009.
Class Members who filed valid and timely claims were mailed their Refund Payment on or about December 18, 2009.
The fee and expense payment did not decrease the amount of any Class Member’s refund.
The refund varied depending on the type of property (e.g., single-family residential, multi-residential, commercial) and length of ownership. A single-family homeowner received about $20 for each year he or she paid the assessment, or about $120 if he or she owned the property for the entire six years the assessment was charged.
The tax treatment of your refund payment is your responsibility. The Claims Administrator cannot provide individual tax advice. You should consult with your tax advisor regarding any possible income tax implications of receiving an assessment refund under this Settlement.
The check you receive must be negotiated or cashed within 90 days from the issue date.
Whether or not you chose to file a Refund Claim, if you did not exclude yourself from the Settlement you automatically gave up your rights to sue the Open Space Authority for both the District Two Assessment and another Open Space Authority assessment known as the District One Assessment.
The District One Assessment was approved by voters and first imposed in 1994, before Proposition 218 (a constitutional provision that changed the law governing real estate assessments) became effective. It imposes a $12-per-year assessment on single-family homes and higher amounts for other properties. The California Courts decided that the District One Assessment was valid and could be legally collected in a lawsuit brought by taxpayers entitled Coleman v. Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, Sixth District, Appeal Case No. H014730, filed October 20, 1997. Review of that decision was denied by the California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. It has been renewed annually by the Open Space Authority and paid by taxpayers since 1994.
Unless you excluded yourself, you continue to be a Class Member. This means you cannot sue the Open Space Authority for either the District One or District Two Assessments. You permanently gave up your right to challenge both the District One and District Two Assessments. It also means that all of the Court’s orders and the judgment in this lawsuit apply to you and legally bind you and you waived any rights under Civil Code § 1542, which provides,
|A general release does not extend to claims which the creditor does not know or suspect to exist in his or her favor at the time of executing the release, which if known by him or her must have materially affected his or her Settlement with the debtor.|
If you did nothing, you will not get a refund from this Settlement. But, unless you excluded yourself, you will not be able to claim a refund, start a lawsuit, continue with a lawsuit, or be part of any other lawsuit against the Open Space Authority regarding either the District One or Two Assessments – now or in the future.
Any unclaimed refunds will be retained by the Open Space Authority to preserve parklands and open space within the Authority’s borders in Santa Clara County.
The deadline to submit a Refund Claim Form was September 23, 2009.
If you already submitted your claim for a refund, you did not need to submit a Refund Claim Form.
The Court granted final approval of the Settlement on September 18, 2009, and entered Final Judgment on October 7, 2009. Class Members who filed valid and timely claims were mailed their Refund Payment on or about December 18, 2009.
Refund Claims that were not postmarked or received by September 23, 2009 were not accepted. A letter notifying the Class Member that their Refund Claim was not accepted was mailed to those Class Members who did not submit a timely Refund Claim.
If the information you provided on your submitted Refund Claim Form indicates that you are not a Class Member because you are not the taxpayer who paid all or some part of the District Two Assessment and/or the property that is the basis for your claim was not assessed the District Two Assessment, you have or will receive a letter notifying you that your claim is not eligible for a Refund Payment. If you received such a letter but believe that you did pay all or some part of the District Two Assessment, you have an opportunity to provide the Claims Administrator with documentation to support your claim.
The deadline to exclude yourself from the Settlement was July 25, 2009.
If you asked to be excluded, you will not get any Settlement payment. You will not be legally bound by anything that happens in this lawsuit. You may be able to sue the Open Space Authority at your own expense regarding the District One and Two Assessment, but your suit may be dismissed, reduced, or limited because of legal defenses available to the Open Space Authority. These defenses may include, but are not necessarily limited to, claims-filing requirements or deadlines, statutes of limitation, judgments in other lawsuits, and others.
No. Unless you excluded yourself, you gave up any right to sue the Open Space Authority regarding the District One and District Two Assessments. You must have excluded yourself from this Settlement and lawsuit in order to bring or continue your own lawsuit. Remember, your request for exclusion must have been postmarked by July 25, 2009.
No. If you excluded yourself, you could not submit a claim to ask for a refund. If you did, your claim for a refund was denied. You may hire your own lawyer at your expense to represent you in seeking a refund or filing your own lawsuit.
The Court has approved the Law Offices of Tony J. Tanke of Davis, California, to represent you and other Class Members. This lawyer is called the Class Counsel. You were not charged for his law firm’s work. If you want to be represented by your own lawyer, either in this lawsuit or any other legal matter, you may hire one at your own expense.
The Court awarded a payment of $7.4 million in attorney’s fees and $75,000 in expenses to Class Counsel and ordered that such payments be made from the Settlement Fund. Class Counsel’s fees provide compensation to his law firm for investigating the facts and law, litigating the case for seven years through the California Supreme Court, and negotiating the Settlement. The Court independently ruled on reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses. The fee and expense payment did not decrease the amount of any Class Member’s refund.
Objecting is simply telling the Court that you do not like something about the Settlement. You could object only if you remained a Class Member. Excluding yourself is telling the Court that you do not want to be a Class Member.
The Court held a Fairness Hearing on July 31, 2009 in Department 17C, located at 191 N. First Street, San Jose, CA 95113, before Judge Jack Komar. The Court listened to people who asked to speak at the hearing and considered their comments on or objections to the Settlement. On September 18, 2009, the Court decided that the Settlement, including the refund and fee-and-expense provisions, is fair, reasonable, and adequate and granted final approval. The Court entered Final Judgment on October 7, 2009.
All requests for check reissues must come in writing. Please send a letter explaining your situation and requesting a check reissue to the following address:
Silicon Valley Taxpayers Assn. v. Santa Clara County Open Space Authority
c/o The Garden City Group, Inc.
P.O. Box 9385
Dublin, OH 43017-4285
If possible, please include your claim number and check number in your correspondence.
This summarizes the Settlement. More details are included in the Settlement Agreement, available on this website. You can also get more information by calling the Claims Administrator toll-free at 1 (888) 284-9087.