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Pleasantville Taxpayers v. City of Pleasantville

Decided: July 27, 1970.


Rimm, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).


This matter came before the court on plaintiffs' application for an order to proceed with litigation in the form of a class action, R. 4:32-1 et seq. , and for an order permitting them to file one appeal to the Atlantic County Board of Taxation as representative of all of the class of taxpayers in the affected area. Defendants thereupon moved for summary judgment pursuant to R. 4:46-1 et seq. , alleging that this court was without jurisdiction to grant the relief sought by plaintiffs and that plaintiffs had failed to exhaust all of their administrative remedies as provided by N.J.S.A. 54:3-21 et seq.

In October 1969 the tax assessor of the City of Pleasantville reassessed all of the real property of Pleasantville. Plaintiffs allege that within the area of Pleasantville bounded by Clematis Avenue, Ridgewood Avenue, Main Street and Ryon Avenue, in which all of them own property, the assessments of each property were approximately doubled.

Plaintiffs have brought this action seeking, by way of the ad damnum clause, the following relief: (1) a writ in the nature of mandamus , ordering defendant tax assessor to reassess all properties in Pleasantville; (2) a writ in the nature of quo warranto and prohibition restraining him from collecting taxes from plaintiffs in any amount greater than the taxes due upon last year's assessments, until the city demonstrates that it had the lawful authority to increase assessments in the manner in which they were increased; (3) damages for each plaintiff in the amount of the 1970 taxes due on that portion of the alleged discriminatory increase; (4) damages in a similar amount for 1971; (5) damages in a similar amount for 1972 and for each successive year until a reassessment is made of each property in the city; (6) an equitable order setting aside the alleged discriminatory tax assessment; (7) an equitable order directing

the city to maintain an account record of the taxes paid by each plaintiff, indicating therein the alleged unlawful portion, and (8) an equitable order permitting the named plaintiffs and all other members of the class similarly situated to pursue their administrative remedy under N.J.S.A. 54:3-21 et seq. by filing only one tax appeal for the class on the issues common to the class, with the additional provision that the statutory fee be paid only on the single application rather than on each individual application, and with the further provision that any taxpayer wishing to file an appeal on issues other than those common to the class would be permitted to do so and would be considered both as a member of a class and as an individual pursuing individual arguments.

The prayers, therefore, fall into three categories: (1) those seeking relief in lieu of prerogative writs; (2) those seeking damages, and (3) those seeking equitable relief from this court acting as a court of equity. This court has the jurisdiction to grant the relief sought in all of the prayers as incidental to its powers as a court of law, if the court has jurisdiction over the action in the first instance. Cf. R. 4:69-1 et seq.; Ajamian v. Schlanger , 14 N.J. 483 (1954); Falcone v. Middlesex County Medical Society , 82 N.J. Super. 133 (Law Div. 1964).

N.J.S.A. 54:3-21 provides that

A taxpayer feeling aggrieved by the assessed valuation of his property, or feeling that he is discriminated against by the assessed valuation of other property in the county, or a taxing district which may feel discriminated against by the assessed valuation of property in the taxing district, or by the assessed valuation of property in another taxing district in the county, may on or before August fifteenth appeal to the county board of taxation by filing with it a petition of appeal. A copy thereof shall also be filed with the assessor, clerk or attorney of the taxing district, setting forth the cause of complaint, the nature and location of the assessed property and the relief sought. The petition shall be signed and sworn to by the petitioner or his agent, and shall be in such form and contain such further information as may be from time to time prescribed by rule of the board, for the better understanding and determination of the appeal.

An administrative remedy and procedure is thereby provided whereby plaintiffs and any others similarly situated may challenge the assessment as applied to their particular piece of property. A fee is required by N.J.S.A. 54:3-21.3, the exact amount depending upon the valuation of the property. There is no procedure within the applicable statutes authorizing the combining of appeals or the waiver of fees where more than one property is involved and the properties have separate owners.

In J.H. Becker, Inc. v. Marlboro Tp. , 82 N.J. Super. 519 (App. Div. 1964), plaintiffs were dissatisfied with the assessments levied on their property and sought new assessments by a proceeding in lieu of a prerogative writ. The Appellate Division determined that such proceedings were not maintainable holding that

the Law Division is not required to entertain this type of action when the gravamen of the complaint is that the assessor is taxing some properties more than they are worth, or properties less than they are worth, or applying a certain per acre value to some lands as contrasted with a different per acre value to other lands. Mere difference of opinion as to whether the assessed values of the respective townships do or not represent 100% of true value does not ...

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