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Atlantic City Casino Association v. Kimmelman

Decided: October 23, 1984.

ATLANTIC CITY CASINO ASSOCIATION, AND GREAT BAY HOTEL & CASINO INC. T/A SANDS HOTEL & CASINO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
IRWIN I. KIMMELMAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, CITY OF ATLANTIC CITY, THE ATLANTIC COUNTY BOARD OF TAXATION, WILLIAM G. FERRY, TAX ASSESSOR OF ATLANTIC CITY, AND ALBERTA WATKINS, TAX COLLECTOR OF ATLANTIC CITY, DEFENDANTS



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

Rimm

[204 NJSuper Page 656] The issue before the court in this matter is the constitutionality of Chapter 67 of the Laws of 1984, hereinafter referred to as c. 67, which is entitled "An Act concerning the revaluation of real property in certain municipalities."*fn1 Central to the issue is the authority of the Legislature to set aside a judgment of this court. There is no reported case in this State holding whether or not the Legislature has such authority. The importance of the issue and the fact that an appeal has been taken from my oral determination of the matter on October 23, 1984,*fn2 requires that I reduce the determination to writing in accordance with R. 2:5-1(b).*fn3 [204 NJSuper Page 657] On November 15, 1978, nearly six years before the hearing in the present matter, the Atlantic County Board of Taxation ordered the City of Atlantic City to engage an outside appraisal firm to revalue the real property in the city for local property tax assessment purposes. The city failed to comply with the order, and in early 1980, about a year and a half later, the county board of taxation sought an order from this court in the matter of Wilczynski v. Ferry, Docket No. L 63650-78, directing the city to comply with the county board's order of November 15, 1978.*fn4 An order was entered by this court directing the City of Atlantic City to hire an outside revaluation firm in accordance with the county board order and with such requirements to be imposed on the city by the Director of the Division of Taxation in accordance with applicable statutes. The order required the revaluation to be effective for the tax year 1982 as of October 1, 1981. Following the entry of that order the city moved before the court for a modification of the order requesting

that the revaluation be delayed and implemented for the tax year 1983, as of October 1, 1982, so that the city and the revaluation company would have an additional year within which time the city could assure itself that the revaluation would be properly implemented. A second order was entered on May 29, 1980 directing the city to implement a revaluation for the tax year 1983. The revaluation was completed. However, early in 1983, the Legislature adopted Chapter 202 of the Laws of 1983 providing for a delay in the implementation of the revaluation for one year from 1983 until 1984. The statutory enactment was not challenged. Accordingly, the city proceeded to implement the revaluation for the tax year 1984, as of October 1, 1983. The assessor completed his work, the assessment records of the city were submitted to the county board in accordance with the statutory obligation imposed on the assessor, and the county board, in accordance with the statutory obligation imposed on it, approved the revaluation figures for the tax year 1984. The city's tax assessment rolls were then returned by the county board to the tax collector who disobeyed the court order by failing to send out tax bills for 1984 in anticipation of another legislative moratorium further interfering with the court's order. Thereafter on July 2, 1984, the Legislature enacted c. 67, which provides as follows:

BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

1. Notwithstanding the provisions to the contrary of any law, rule, regulation or judicial order, no city of the fourth class having a population in excess of 40,000, according to the latest federal decennial census, shall be required to implement a revaluation of real property for the 1984 tax year. The determination of a city not to implement a revaluation pursuant to this act shall not prevent the city from conducting and implementing any partial or complete reassessment of real property in the city during the time covered by this act.

2. At the request of a municipality that, pursuant to section 1 of this act, does not implement a revaluation of real property for the 1984 tax year, the State Treasurer shall have the authority to extend the temporary moratorium of the implementation of the revaluation for the 1985 tax year, upon the Treasurer's determination that an extension of the moratorium is in the best interest of the municipality. The municipality shall make its request for the extension to the State Treasurer on or before January 1, 1985. The Treasurer shall inform the municipality of his decision on or before January 31, 1985.

3. This act shall take effect immediately.

The statement attached to the statute reads as follows:

Senate Bill No. 1052 would make permissive the implementation of a revaluation of real property during the 1984 and 1985 tax years in any city of the fourth class with a population in excess of 40,000.

By the provisions of section 1 of the statute, the Legislature has set aside the judgment of this court directing the city to revalue itself and has given to the city the authority to decide whether or not there will be a revaluation implemented for the tax year 1984 and has reversed the court-ordered implementation of a revaluation already in effect at the time of the statutory enactment.

Plaintiffs argue that the statute is an unconstitutional interference by the Legislature with the court; that the statute is special legislation; that section 2 delegates authority to the executive branch of government without any standard on the basis of which the delegated authority is to be exercised; and, finally, that the statute is an unconstitutional legislative enactment in contravention of the provision of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey requiring uniform assessing.

Initially, it must be recognized that certain well-settled rules of statutory construction are critical to the analysis which attends a determination of the constitutionality of a legislative enactment.

There is a strong presumption that a statute is constitutional, General Electric Co. v. City of Passaic, 28 N.J. 499, 510 (1958); In re Village of Loch Arbor [Arbour], 25 N.J. 258, 264-265 (1957), and a legislative act will not be declared void unless its repugnancy to the Constitution is clear beyond a reasonable doubt. Gangemi v. Berry, 25 N.J. 1, 10 (1957). [ Harvey v. Essex County Bd. of Freeholders, 30 N.J. 381, 388 (1959).]

Furthermore, the burden of overcoming the presumptive validity of an act of the Legislature is placed upon the party making the challenge, Jamouneau v. Harner, 16 N.J. 500, 515 (1954), that is, the plaintiffs herein. Indeed:

"[O]ne of the most delicate tasks a court has to perform is to adjudicate the constitutionality of a statute. In our tripartite form of government, that high prerogative has always been exercised with extreme self-restraint, and with a deep awareness that the challenged enactment represents the considered action

of a body composed of popularly elected representatives. As a result, judicial decisions from the time of Chief Justice Marshall reveal an unswerving acceptance of the principle that every possible presumption favors the validity of an act of the Legislature. As we noted in Rowe v. Kervick, 42 N.J. 191, 229 (1964), all the relevant New Jersey cases display faithful judicial deference to the will of the lawmakers whenever reasonable men might differ as to whether the means devised by the Legislature to serve a public purpose conforms to the Constitution. And these cases project into the forefront of any judicial study of an attack upon a duly-enacted statute, both the strong presumption of validity and our solemn duty to resolve reasonably conflicting doubts in favor of conformity to our organic charter. Moreover, the conclusions reached in such cases demonstrate that in effectuating this salutary policy, Judges will read the questioned statute as implying matters requisite to its constitutional viability if it contains terms which do not exclude such requirements." [ New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority v. McCrane, 61 N.J. 1, 8 (1972).]

I

Even given these rules of construction, the subject statute is unconstitutional on the ground that it is an improper interference by the Legislature with the court. Our State Constitutional provides as follows:

The powers of the government shall be divided among three distinct branches, the legislative, executive and judicial. No person or persons belonging to or constituting one branch shall exercise any of the powers properly belonging to either of the others, except as expressly provided in this Constitution. [ N.J. Const. (1947) Art III, § 1, para. 1.]

This constitutional provision for the separation of the powers of our three independent and distinct branches of government is intended to guarantee a system of checks and balances that will prevent the power of any one branch from becoming inordinate. State v. Leonardis, 73 N.J. 360, 370 (1977). This system is intolerant of any impairment of "the essential integrity of [any] one of the great branches of government." Massett Building Co. v. Bennett, 4 N.J. 53, 57 (1950). The rule is settled that it is the duty of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government to abstain from and to oppose encroachments upon each other. Allan v. Durand, 137 N.J.L. 30, 33 (Sup.Ct.1948).

In enacting c. 67, the Legislature has exercised power "properly belonging to" the court. Essentially, the Legislature has granted Atlantic City authority to delay the implementation of

its court-ordered revaluation of real property for local property assessment purposes for the tax year 1984, thereby excusing the city from compliance with the terms of a final judgment of this court.*fn5 This is clearly an unlawful encroachment upon the function of the judiciary, i.e., to completely determine all matters in controversy between the parties before the court in accordance with our State Constitution:

4. Subject to rule of the Supreme Court, the Law Division and the Chancery Division shall each exercise the powers and functions of the other division when the ends of justice so require, and legal and equitable relief shall be granted in any cause so that all matters in controversy between the parties may be completely determined. [ N.J. Const. (1947) Art VI, § 3, para. 4.]

The city elected to delay the revaluation and has, as a result of the legislative interference, thus disobeyed the court order.

The former Supreme Court enunciated the rule concerning the impropriety, under the Constitution, of legislative interference with the final judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction in State, ex rel. Doyle v. Newark City, 34 N.J.L. 236 (Sup.Ct.1870).*fn6 It said:

The judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction cannot be reversed, avoided, or set aside by the legislative power. [34 N.J.L. at 240.]

The court held that the legislative act at issue did not have the effect of rendering valid an assessment for improvements benefiting plaintiff's property which the court had set aside as illegal. Instead, the act did no more than to order that a new and independent assessment be made by the City of Newark upon plaintiff's property. Thus, as the enactment left the court's judgment respecting ...


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