Ashford Hospitality v. City and County of San FranciscoAnnotate this Case
Ashford San Francisco owns the 2nd Street property. In 2013, a majority ownership interest in Ashford San Francisco was acquired by Ashford Hospitality. The transfer resulted in a change in ownership of the property, which the city determined triggered the imposition of the transfer tax. Ashford paid $3,348,025 in transfer taxes based upon the $133,920,700 self-reported value of the property, then filed an administrative claim for a refund. The transfer tax has five tiered (graduated) tax rates.
When the city did not timely act, Ashford filed suit. seeking a refund, alleging that the transfer tax “imposes different tax rates on taxpayers for performing the same exact function” and arbitrarily classifies property transfer instruments for the imposition of a varying rate of taxation, solely by reference to the amount of the consideration in the transactions in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
The court of appeal affirmed a judgment in favor of the city. The city rationally chose to treat the sale or transfer of a higher-valued property differently from the sale of a lower-valued property; the transfer tax “taxes all transfers of the same consideration or value equally.” The court noted the city’s justifications: the owner’s ability to pay and that time and costs associated with the city’s audits for the self-reported transfer tax may increase depending on the value of the property.