On appeal from Division of Tax Appeals, Department of the Treasury, State of New Jersey.
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. Wachenfeld, J., concurring in result. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J. Brennan, J. (concurring). Vanderbilt, C.J., joins in this concurring opinion.
This appeal stems from an order of the Division of Tax Appeals granting the motion of defendant Township of North Bergen (hereinafter referred to as North Bergen) to dismiss so much of the petitions of appeal of the various taxpayer plaintiffs as were based upon a prayer for relief to reduce their assessments at true value "to the same level and standard of value used in levying assessments on other types of property" in the taxing district. We certified the controversy on our motion prior to consideration by the Appellate Division. R.R. 1:10-1.
North Bergen being a part of Hudson County, the township assessor filed the annual assessment list and duplicate with the Hudson County Board of Taxation. It is uncontradicted that the assessments on the plaintiffs' properties for 1950 represented "a substantial increase" over the prior 1949 assessments on the same properties. Prior to April 1, 1950 the county board met for the purpose of "examining, revising and correcting" the North Bergen tax lists, R.S. 54:4-46, and certified the duplicates to the collector of that district without altering in any way the increased assessments on plaintiffs' properties.
Subsequently and prior to August 15, 1950, the individual plaintiffs took separate appeals to the county board, R.S. 54:3-21, as am. L. 1945, c. 125, alleging that the assessments upon their properties had been computed "according to a standard of value different from and higher than the standard used by the Township of North Bergen in assessing other types of property" within the taxing district resulting in "an unconstitutional discrimination" against the property owners. The relief requested signals the importance of the question:
"Your petitioner * * * prays that said assessment at true value be reduced to the same level and standard of value used in levying assessments on other types of property in said taxing district."
The county board, after consolidating the appeals for hearing decided that the plaintiffs had not sustained the burden of showing an unconstitutional discrimination. This burden was conceived to be proof of an "intentional systematic undervaluation" and "an intentional violation of the essential principle of practical uniformity." The record before us indicates that the board was clearly of the opinion that the relief sought might be afforded in a proper case.
Thereafter, and before December 15, 1950, the plaintiffs separately appealed to the Division of Tax Appeals alleging discrimination and requesting the same relief advanced before the county board.
The Division never heard these appeals, and similar proceedings were initiated by the plaintiffs in 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1954. In each year the decision of the Hudson County Board has been the same and in each year plaintiffs appealed to the Division of Tax Appeals praying for the same relief as that requested in 1950.
In November 1954, no hearing having been conducted by the Division, North Bergen moved to dismiss so much of the petitions of appeal as were based upon the prayer for relief seeking a reduction below true value on two grounds, first, because the petitions did not allege a basis for the relief, and secondly, because the Division was without
authority, at least under R.S. 54:2-39, as am. L. 1954, c. 115, to afford the requested remedy. The motion was granted, the Division being of the opinion that it had no jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. That the Division was somewhat uncertain about its action in this regard is indicated by the fact that in November 1952 a similar motion was advanced by North Bergen and denied.
The question involved is narrowed to this inquiry: May the Division of Tax Appeals remedy a discriminatory assessment at true value by reduction thereof to the common ratio employed in levying assessments throughout the same taxing district?
The basic statutory law was enacted under the Constitution of 1844 of this State, specifically Art. IV, Sec. VII, par. 12 (as added, election September 7, 1875, proclamation September 28, 1875) which provided: "Property shall be assessed for taxes under general laws * * * according to its true value." R.S. 54:4-23, as am. L. 1942, c. 281 and L. 1943, c. 120, directs the assessor to determine the "full and fair value" of all the real property in his district "at such price as, in his judgment, it would sell for at a fair and bona fide sale by private contract." This is a true value standard which is generally determined by the value the property has in exchange for money, City of Newark v. West Milford Township, 9 N.J. 295 (1952); cf. Hackensack Water Co. v. Division of Tax ...