For the prosecutor, Harvey T. Satterthwaite.
For the respondents, S. Arthur Stern and Ralph M. Peitzman.
Before Justices Trenchard, Case and Heher.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
CASE, J. The argument is on the return of two writs of certiorari bringing up the judgments entered by the State Board of Tax Appeals concerning the 1935 and 1936 assessments, respectively, on the lands and buildings of Louise M. Murray situated in the township of Lawrence, county of Mercer, and bounding on the Turnpike Road leading from Trenton to Princeton and other lesser roads. The appeals were consolidated on the taking of the testimony and in the argument before us.
The 1935 assessment was: Land $9,750, improvements $36,000, total $45,750. The 1936 assessment was: Land $13,500, improvements $30,000, total $43,500. On the appeals by the taxpayer the Mercer County Board of Taxation affirmed the 1935 assessment of $9,750 on land and reduced the assessment on improvements to $31,000, leaving an aggregate of $40,750, and dismissed the 1936 appeal. The taxpayer then appealed to the State Board of Tax Appeals with the result that the 1935 assessment was retained at $9,750 on land and reduced to $26,000 on improvements, a total of $35,750, and the 1936 assessment was reduced to $12,000 on land and $26,000 on improvements, leaving a total assessment of $38,000.
The reasons for reversal which are sufficiently stated (Simmons v. Passaic, 55 N.J.L. 485) are that there was no competent legal evidence before the State Board of Tax Appeals upon which its judgments may be sustained; that the said board in reaching its judgment failed to be guided by the preponderance of the competent and relevant testimony; and that the said board failed to place the burden of proof upon the taxpayer but required the township to prove by the weight of the evidence that the assessment made by
lawful authority was a correct assessment. There certainly was sustaining evidence before the board; and we find no manifestation of misconception by the board as to where the burden of proof lay. We shall further consider the actual preponderance of proof.
Our function is outlined in the statutes, which include R.S. 2:81-8 and R. S. 2:81-12, and in numerous decisions. We are to determine disputed questions of fact as well as of law and to that end are to inquire into the facts, as well those disclosed by the testimony taken before the tribunal below where, as here, a party presents it, as those produced by deposition where, also as here, depositions have been taken according to the practice. It is for us to make an independent determination of facts (Trenton, &c., Traction Corp. v. Mercer County Tax Board, 92 N.J.L. 398), weigh the evidence and render such decision as we think proper according to the view that we take of the evidence. Gibbs v. State Board of Taxes, &c., 101 Id. 371. We have the power, when satisfied from the evidence that the value of taxable property has been assessed too high, to reduce the same to the proper and just amount (Lehigh Valley Railroad Co. v. State Board, 102 Id. 576, 579; New Jersey Bell Telephone Co. v. Camden, 122 Id. 270), and, by like reasoning, particularly under our interpretation of R.S. 2:81-12, supra, to raise the assessed valuation when the evidence shows it to be too low; although the Supreme Court does not always feel called upon, in setting aside the valuations fixed below, to establish a new valuation. Kearny v. State Board of Taxes, &c., 103 Id. 26. Nevertheless, the State Board of Tax Appeals occupies an important position in the system of taxation of the state, especially for the determination of disputed questions of fact (Kearny v. State Board, supra), and in weighing the evidence and making our finding we do not disturb the judgment of the state board, on questions of fact, unless the evidence is persuasive that the board erred in its determination. Tennant v. Jersey City, 122 Id. 174; affirmed, 123 Id. 200; Gannon v. State Board of Tax Appeals, 123 Id. 450; Skouras Theatres Corp. v. State Board of Tax Appeals, 123 Id. 52.
It will be observed that the 1935 assessment ...