At the end of 2016, the Illinois appellate court reversed and remanded a PTAB decision that excluded one party’s evidence because the appraiser who authored the appraisal died prior to the hearing. The case at issue, 1411 North State Condominium v. The Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board, raises an interesting discussion regarding the hearing officer’s role in making evidentiary determinations in property tax litigation.

In September of 2010, the taxpayer challenged the assessed value of a 14-unit condominium property before the Property Tax Appeal Board (“PTAB”). In support of this appeal, the taxpayer submitted an appraisal report prepared by Mr. Robert Schlitz of SAS Appraisal, Inc. The matter was set for hearing on March 25, 2014. However, Mr. Schlitz had passed away in May of 2012.

At the hearing, the board of review challenged the admission of the appraisal, mainly on hearsay grounds because Mr. Schlitz was not available for cross-examination. The hearing officer overruled this objection, holding that the appraisal would be considered and given the appropriate weight.

In its written decision, however, the PTAB made a “conclusion of law” that the appraisal should be excluded as hearsay because the board of review has a fundamental right to cross examine the author of the appraisal. With the appraisal excluded, PTAB found the taxpayer failed to prove that the subject property was overvalued.

The appellate court reversed the PTAB’s finding based on the manner and timing of PTAB’s exclusion of the evidence. The Appellate Court determined that by excluding the appraisal after the hearing officer found it admissible, the PTAB failed to conduct the hearing in a manner best calculated to conform to substantial justice. The appellate court specifically took exception with the fact that the Petitioner had no notice before or at the hearing that the PTAB could or would overrule the hearing officer on this issue, leaving Petitioner with no opportunity or reason to present new evidence of the valuation of the subject property. The court noted that while the PTAB rules give the hearing officer the authority to make evidentiary rulings, the PTAB does not have the power to override this authority unless the hearing officer reserves the question of admissibility for a later determination by the PTAB. As such, the court remanded the case to give the Petitioner an opportunity to obtain and present new appraisal evidence.

Recognizing how costly it can be to obtain and submit an appraisal as evidence in a PTAB hearing, this decision proves to be a “win” for parties who regularly utilize appraisals. As of now, parties may continue to rely on a hearing officer’s determination of the admissibility of evidence at hearing without fear of the PTAB reversing this decision after hearing.