Nordlinger v. Hahn

LOCATION:Residence of Stephanie Nordlinger

DOCKET NO.: 90-1912
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 505 US 1 (1992)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1992
DECIDED: Jun 18, 1992

Carlyle W. Hall, Jr. – Argued the cause for the petitioner
Rex E. Lee – on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

In a statewide ballot, California residents approved the addition of Article XIIIA to their State Constitution. Article XIIIA’s “acquisition value” provision limited property assessment value increases to two percent, if caused by changes in ownership or new construction improvements. Article XIIIA exempted two types of transfers from this reassessment limit: first, if the principal seller is 55 or older and moved to a home of equal or lower value, and second, when a transfer occurred between parents and children. One of Article XIIIA’s effects is that over time the taxes of new property owners, adjusted to reflect recent values, would be substantially higher than long-term property owner’s taxes. A new property owner filed suit to challenge the state constitutional amendment.


Does Article XIIIA’s “acquisition value provision,” which created a dramatic disparity in the property taxes paid by long-term property owners as compared with new property owners, violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by discriminating against new property owners?

Media for Nordlinger v. Hahn

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 25, 1992 in Nordlinger v. Hahn

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 18, 1992 in Nordlinger v. Hahn

Harry A. Blackmun:

The second case is No. 90-1912, Nordlinger against Hahn.

This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals of California.

It concerns Proposition 13 approved by California voters in a statewide ballot initiative.

This added an article to the California Constitution which embodies an acquisition value system of taxation.

Under that system, property is reassessed at current appraised value only upon new construction or a change in ownership.

There are exemptions for exchanges for principle residences by persons over 55 and transfers between parents and children.

Longer term owners paid lower taxes reflecting historic property values and this system over time has created dramatic disparities and taxes paid by persons owning similar pieces of property.

Petitioner who was a recent purchaser of a home filed suit against the County and its tax assessor claiming that the scheme violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The Trial Court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeal affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm that judgment.

We hold that the acquisition value assessment scheme does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.

The clause requires only that the classification rationally furthers a legitimate state interest.

The right to travel is not involved in this case.

We detect at least two legitimate state interests: One is in preserving continuity and stability in neighborhood preservation: the other is that a new owner does not have the same reliance interest warranting protection against higher taxes as does an existing owner.

The provision, thus, is not palpably arbitrary, even though it provokes some distaste on one’s part and may appear to be unwise and unlikely ever to be reconsidered repealed by ordinary democratic processes.

We cannot conclude that it is prohibited by the Federal Constitution.

Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; he joins part 2a of the opinion, and Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.