The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of cases involving two former NFL players hit by Cleveland’s “jock tax,” which was imposed on visiting athletes according to a “games played” allocation.

Under the allocation method, the taxable portion of a professional athlete’s income was based on the number of games the athlete played in Cleveland in relation to the total number of games played that year.
Hunter Hillenmeyer, a former linebacker for the Chicago Bears, and Jeff Saturday, a center for the Indianapolis Colts, contested the tax.

Cleveland imposed its municipal tax on Hillenmeyer for the years 2004-2006, in which he played one game each year against the Browns and was present in Cleveland for two days for each game.  Including preseason games, the Bears played 20 games those years, resulting in an allocation of one-twentieth of Hillenmeyer’s income subject to Cleveland’s 2 percent municipal tax. The city imposed its tax on Saturday despite the fact that he was not in Cleveland for the game, but was on injured reserve undergoing rehab. 

The Supreme Court of Ohio decided for both players. It found in Hillenmeyer’s case that the “games played allocation method was unconstitutional as applied to nonresident professional athletes. In Saturday’s case, the court held that nonresident professional athletes may not be taxed unless they are physically present in the city.

The Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2015, introduced as H.R. 2315 in the House in May 2015, would provide a 30-day safe harbor from personal income tax and withholding obligations for traveling employees and their employers. The bill has been reported out of the Judiciary Committee, and there is a companion bill in the Senate. However, the bill would not cover professional athletes such as athletes and entertainers, according to Douglas L. Lindholm, president and chief executive of the Council On State Taxation (COST).

“It does not cover athletes and entertainers and other prominent individuals who are paid on a per event basis and therefore should be well aware of their tax obligations,” he said.

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