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Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Co. v. City of Jersey City

Decided: February 8, 1950.

HUDSON & MANHATTAN RAILROAD COMPANY ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF JERSEY CITY, RESPONDENT



Jacobs, Donges and Bigelow. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jacobs, S.j.a.d.

Jacobs

The appellants in this proceeding seek to set aside, as discriminatory and invalid, resolutions of the Board of Commissioners of Jersey City relating to tax appeals by the City from assessments which had been revised by the County Board of Taxation.

In 1943, after the Hudson County Board of Taxation had reduced assessments on 80% of the real estate in Jersey City, 34,431 tax appeals filed by the City were dismissed by the County Board for lack of jurisdiction and were prosecuted further to the State Board of Tax Appeals. In 1944, 24,514 appeals taken by the City were similarly dismissed by the County Board and prosecuted to the State Board. In 1945, 12,000 appeals were taken to the County Board. In September, 1945, the County Board dismissed the City's 1945 appeals and the State Board sustained the County Board's ruling that it was without jurisdiction of the 1943 and 1944 appeals. See In re Jersey City , 23 N.J. Misc. 311 (Dep't of Tax. & Fin. 1945).

The City was then confronted with the issue of whether it should proceed with all of its appeals or whether a more satisfactory policy might be evolved which would fairly and in substantial measure protect the City's position while avoiding the problems incident to the prosecution of over 70,000 separate appeals. Between September and November 20, 1945, Commissioner Potterton held conferences on the subject with representatives of the municipal Law Department and Tax Board, realty experts and others and, as a result, certain working policies were developed. The appeals were to be abandoned except with respect to 876 properties which were believed to fall within four major groupings. The first may be described as those within the "Journal Square area." This area is one of the most valuable in the City and contains many high rental properties. The second may be described as properties containing buildings or other improvements assessed by the City in excess of $50,000 which were separately grouped, according to Commissioner Potterton, because they had generally "been so materially reduced" by the County Board.

The third was locally assessed railroad property adjacent to or near railroad property assessed by the State. This property was included in view of the then long standing controversy between the City and the railroads relating to the extensive State-assessed railroad property within the City's borders (see State v. State Board of Tax Appeals , 134 N.J.L. 34 (Sup. Ct. 1946); affirmed, 135 N.J.L. 481, 482 (E. & A. 1947)), and the expressed belief that if the County Tax Board's reductions were permitted to stand they would result not only in local assessments below true value but "might have a bearing" on the State-assessed railroad property. The fourth was a group of industrial properties near the locally assessed railroad properties. These were apparently included because of their physical relation to the locally assessed railroad properties and in the belief that they were part of a "solidly industrial" area which had been improperly reduced by the County Board.

In addition to the four major groupings there were subordinate policies. Thus, pursuant to a recommendation of the Law Department, property was to be excluded generally where it appeared that the County Board's action did not reduce the assessment below that fixed by a prior judgment of the State Board of Tax Appeals. Where an appeal was being taken with respect to property in the group having buildings or improvements assessed over $50,000, the appeal was to include land as well as buildings; there was testimony that the Law Department had advised that this be done to facilitate the introduction of expert valuation testimony.

While the foregoing was being evolved Commissioner Potterton conferred from time to time with the other City Commissioners and, although they may not have known all of the details, they were sufficiently acquainted with the major groupings and the reasons therefor. Under date of November 15, 1945, Commissioner Potterton addressed a letter to the Board of Commissioners which stated that he had been engaged in an intensive study and investigation of the subject and was recommending the further prosecution of appeals with respect to the properties set forth on a list enclosed in his letter. His

letter pointed out that the list, which contained the 876 properties, did not include "the properties of any home owner or small property owner." On November 20, 1945, the Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution which authorized Commissioner Potterton, as Director of the Department of Revenue and Finance, to appeal to the Division of Tax Appeals from the County Board's dismissals of the City's 1945 appeals relating to these properties. On December 18, 1945, a further resolution was adopted authorizing judicial review of the State Board's dismissal of the 1943 and 1944 appeals insofar as the 876 properties were concerned, and by resolutions dated August 6, 1946, and July 15, 1947, the City authorized appeals from the 1946 and 1947 assessments with respect to 842 of the properties. Writs of certiorari were issued by the former Supreme Court to review the validity of the resolutions (Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Co. v. Jersey City , 134 N.J.L. 442 (Sup. Ct. 1946)), and the appellants in this proceeding are before this Court pursuant thereto.

In Jersey City v. Division of Tax Appeals , 5 N.J. Super. 375 (App. Div. 1949), this Court held that the tax appeals by the City of Jersey City were improperly dismissed and, under that decision, the City may proceed with its appeals and obtain determinations on the merits. We were advised at the argument that the 876 appeals are being steadily reduced by settlements which, thus far, aggregate approximately 475. In the course of each of the City's tax appeals, the individual taxpayer will have the right to assert such material defenses as pertain to his particular assessment. See Jersey City v. Division of Tax Appeals, supra , at p. 384. In this connection it may be noted that the new Rules contemplate that generally the record before the administrative agency will be complete and include evidence on all issues which the appellant may ultimately seek to have determined on judicial review. See Rules 3:81-8; 3:81-9. Cf. Central R.R. Co. of N.J. v. State Tax Department , 112 N.J.L. 5, 16 (E. & A. 1933). In the light of the foregoing we believe that in this proceeding by the appellants, seeking to set aside in toto the resolutions of the City authorizing prosecution of the 876

appeals, we do not have properly before us considerations which pertain solely to particular properties, such as the individual errors which admittedly crept in during the preparation of the list of 876 properties. They are not sufficient to indicate any bad faith or corrupt design in the working out of the City's policies; on the contrary, they appear to have been the result of the magnitude of the task and the limited time available. Without determining points which may, perhaps, be raised during the course of any individual appeal because of facts peculiarly applicable to the assessment there involved, we shall here ...


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