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Farmingdale Realty Co. v. Borough of Farmingdale

Decided: December 16, 1969.


For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Hall, J.


The plaintiff, a real property owner in the defendant municipality, sued in the Law Division to secure a refund of excess taxes paid for the years 1962, 1963 and 1964 by reason of partial duplicate assessments. The action was based on the following provision of N.J.S.A. 54:4-54:

"Where by mistake property real or personal has been twice entered and assessed on the tax duplicate, the governing body of the taxing district or county board of taxation may order and cause the tax record to be corrected and if the tax has been twice paid the governing body of the taxing district shall refund the excessive payment without interest."

The case was tried to the court on a stipulation of certain facts and the pretrial depositions of the assessor and a member of the borough's governing body. Judgment for the

defendant resulted. The Appellate Division affirmed. 104 N.J. Super. 314 (1969). We granted certification. 53 N.J. 580 (1969).

The trial judge did not make the findings of fact in his oral opinion at the close of the case required by R. 1:7-4 (formerly R.R. 4:53-1) or subsequent to the filing of the notice of appeal as permitted by R. 2:5-1(b) (formerly R.R. 1:2-8(h)). Nor did the Appellate Division find them fully in its opinion. Therefore we proceed to do so pursuant to the constitutional grant of necessary original jurisdiction to appellate courts. Const. 1947, Art. VI, ยง V, par. 3; R. 2:10-5 (formerly R.R. 1:5-4(a)). The basic facts are undisputed.

In 1961 and since, plaintiff owned a parcel of real estate designated on the tax map as block 21, lot 4, upon which five factory buildings are situated. Plaintiff's president and his wife also owned individually block 21, lot 3, where his private residence is located. The statute prescribes that the assessor shall annually make a list, called the "tax list" or "assessment list", of each parcel of real estate in the municipality and set down in tabular form in the list, and in the copy thereof designated the "tax duplicate", the names of the owners and the taxable value, i.e., the assessed valuation, of the land and of the buildings and improvements thereon together with the total of the two figures. N.J.S.A. 54:4-24, 26. The figure for the taxable value of buildings and improvements is one lump sum and where, as here, there is more than one building on a lot, no breakdown is set forth in the list or duplicate to indicate the taxable value of each building separately.

Shortly prior to 1961, all property in Farmingdale was revalued by an outside firm for tax assessment purposes at 100% of true value. That firm prepared a card for each parcel upon which the land and buildings thereon were described and the assigned valuation figures set forth. Where more than one building was situated on a lot, each

structure was described and valued separately. These cards were turned over to the assessor and were adopted by him. They comprised his office records. (The annual tax list and duplicate are filed with the County Board of Taxation; after correction and revision the duplicate is delivered to the tax collector of the municipality and the list remains with the board as a public record. N.J.S.A. 54:4-35, 55.)

In 1962 Farmingdale went on a 100% value assessment basis for the first time and the assessor used the revaluation figures on the cards as the assessment figures in preparing the tax list and duplicate. These figures necessarily differed substantially from those used in the preceding year. The card for plaintiff's property set forth a valuation of $18,450 for the land and separate figures for each of the five buildings totalling $144,021. The card for the individually owned residence of plaintiff's president set forth a value of $24,587 for it.

However, the part-time assessor (his other occupation was school bus operator), in computing the assessment for the corporate buildings added in the $24,587 valuation of the president's residence (as well as assessing it to him individually) and also included the valuation of three of the corporate buildings twice.*fn1 The assessed value of the corporate buildings was by reason of these clerical mistakes set down in the tax list and duplicate as ...

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