Ed Meyer

The Ohio Supreme court ruled in favor of two former National Football League players who argued that Cleveland’s so-called “jock tax” was unfair and illegal.

Professional athletes routinely pay local income taxes to the cities in which they play their games.

In two separate and unanimous rulings Thursday, the court found that Cleveland’s unique method of calculating such taxes violates an athlete’s right to due process and, therefore, is unconstitutional.

The city used a system based on the number of games the visiting team plays in the city divided by the total number of games in a season — the “games played method.”

Cleveland tax officials previously have said that the city could lose more than $1 million a year in tax revenue if it’s forced to drop the system.

City spokesman Daniel Ball issued a statement on the high court’s decision, saying it is under review and that city officials are “considering all available options and any potential economic or operational consequences.”

There were no additional comments.

Among all major pro teams — the NFL, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League — Cleveland was the only city that calculated taxes based on the “games played method,” according to the players’ lawsuit.

The high court ruled that tax refunds should be awarded to former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer based on a “duty-days” calculation — dividing the number of days the team spends in the city by the total number of days in which the athletes perform services for their team during the year.

The court found that Hillenmeyer played one game for the Bears in Cleveland from 2004-2006 and paid local taxes on about 5 percent of his income. His suit claimed he would have paid taxes on a little more than 1 percent of his income under the “duty days” method.

Hillenmeyer is owed a $5,062 tax refund under the ruling.

In the other decision, the court found that a pro athlete who stays in his home city receiving treatment for an injury while the team plays in Cleveland is not subject to the tax.

The city had no authority, the court ruled, to tax former Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday in 2008, because he never set foot in Cleveland that year.

Saturday and his wife were awarded a full refund of the taxes they paid to the city — a sum of $3,272, plus interest.

Stephen W. Kidder, an attorney from Boston who worked on the lawsuit, said in a statement that the decisions in both cases “represent clear victories for professional athletes who often are unfairly targeted by jurisdictions.”

Kidder said he expects many players will now file refund claims against Cleveland to recover taxes that the court determined to be unconstitutional.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.