On appeal from final judgment entered in the Tax Court of New Jersey.
Antell, J. H. Coleman and Simpson. The opinion of the court was delivered by, Antell, P.J.A.D.
This is an appeal by the Borough of Fort Lee taxing district from determinations of true value in the Tax Court for the tax years 1977 through 1980. Taxpayer brought one action for 1977 and the taxing district filed the other for 1978 and 1979. Prior to commencement of trial, taxpayer moved pursuant to the Freeze Act, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-8, for application of the Tax Court judgment for 1977 to the two assessment years following, 1978 and 1979. The Tax Court reserved on the motion and thereafter conducted a consolidated trial covering all years. It then found as true value for 1977, $15,363,800, for 1978, $16,722,800, and for 1979, $16,564,100. The Tax Court thereafter granted taxpayer's motion and applied the valuation for 1977 to the years 1978 and 1979.
Defendant contends that the Freeze Act becomes applicable only where a judgment for a particular year has become "final," and that such finality does not occur until after the right to an appellate remedy has either expired or has been exhausted.
The statutory language in effect at the time of the judgments under review is found in N.J.S.A. 54:51A-8. It provides:
Where a final judgment has been rendered by the tax court involving real property the judgment shall be conclusive and binding upon the municipal assessor and the taxing district, parties to the proceeding, for the assessment year and for the 2 assessment years succeeding the assessment year covered by the final judgment, except as to changes in the value of the property occurring after the assessment date. [Emphasis added.]
The foregoing statute became effective January 28, 1983. L.1983, c. 45. Previously it provided, in N.J.S.A. 54:2-43, as follows:
Where a judgment final has been rendered by the Division of Tax Appeals in the State Department of Taxation and Finance involving real property such judgment shall be conclusive and binding upon the municipal assessor and the taxing district, parties to such appeal, for the assessment year and for the two assessment years succeeding the assessment year covered by the final judgment, except as to changes in the value of the property occurring after the assessment date. [Emphasis added.]
The italicized language highlights the changes brought about by the 1983 amendment under which the Tax Court acted. In Curtiss Wright Corp. v. Wood-Ridge, 4 N.J. Tax. 68 (Tax Ct.1982), the Tax Court addressed the earlier statute and differentiated between "judgment final" and "final judgment" in the following way:
"Judgment final," as used in the Tax Court freeze act (N.J.S.A. 54:2-43), is not to be equated with "final judgment." As employed in the act, a final judgment becomes a judgment final when the period of appeal therefrom has terminated. [ Id. at 73 n. 4].
We conclude that all amendments to the Freeze Act were intended to effectuate purposeful and meaningful changes in the statutory content. See Nagy v. Ford Motor Co., 6 N.J. 341, 348 (1951); Essex Co. Retail, etc. v. Newark, etc., Bev. Control, 77 N.J. Super. 70, 78 (App.Div.1962). Clearly, the Legislature acted within the definitional framework provided during the preceding year by Curtiss Wright Corp. v. Wood-Ridge, supra. "When words used in a statute have previously received judicial construction, the Legislature will be deemed ...