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Sabella v. Lacey Township

Decided: September 12, 1985.

THOMAS SABELLA, KAREN SABELLA, JOSEPH CAPPADONNA AND JEANNE CAPPADONNA, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
LACEY TOWNSHIP, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION IN OCEAN COUNTY, NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Tax Court of New Jersey.

Fritz, Gaulkin and Long. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, P.J.A.D.

Fritz

[204 NJSuper Page 57] This is the second time this matter has been before us. The undisputed facts are reported in our opinion at 188 N.J. Super. 500 (App.Div.1983). Despite the furor our prior opinion produced in the Tax Court, see Flint v. Lawrence Tp., 6 N.J. Tax. 97 (Tax Court 1983), and the purported disagreement between Sabella and Bressler v. Maplewood Tp., 190 N.J. Super. 99 (App.Div.1983) discussed in Flint together with the matter of Tax Court jurisdiction, only one simple issue is involved in this case: if a taxpayer is assessed over four times that which everyone connected with taxation in the municipality concedes he should be because an assessment company failed to put a decimal point in the frontage figure to be applied by the assessor in the assessment, as a result of which he is charged with 580 front feet whereas he really only had 58, is that error correctable in the Tax Court under the correction of errors statute, N.J.S.A. 54:2-41?*fn1 Conceiving that the original denial of relief in the Tax Court was because of an asserted lack of jurisdiction there since the Tax Court judge said, "I do not have jurisdiction over it . . .," 188 N.J. Super. at 502, we declared there was jurisdiction under the correction of errors statute and pointed out that R. 8:2(c) expressly relieved the taxpayer from the burden of exhaustion of administrative remedies by way of appeal to the county board of taxation in such case.*fn2 We

remanded the matter to the Tax Court "for consideration of the complaint on the merits." 188 N.J. Super. at 504.

The Tax Court judge held a new hearing and thereafter filed a written opinion. In this opinion he said our determination in the first Sabella opinion that he "found an 'absence of jurisdiction in the Tax Court' to hear the matter as a correction of error matter" was "of course, . . . simply not so."*fn3 The judge concluded his opinion by stating:

The error is not a correctable error in accordance with the definition set forth in Manczak. This definition was not dealt with in the Appellate Division opinion in Sabella v. Lacey Tp., which only addressed jurisdiction, but was expressly approved in Bressler v. Maplewood Tp.

The correction of errors statute refers to typographical errors, errors in transposing and mistakes in tax assessments which occur after the assessor makes his assessment. Any other interpretation would effectively nullify the statute's express interdiction against considering "any application relating to matters of valuation involving an assessor's opinion or judgment." N.J.S.A. 54:2-41.

The Clerk of the Tax Court is directed to enter a judgment dismissing the complaint.

At the outset, we concur that we did not consider the breadth of the correction of errors statute in our earlier opinion, inasmuch as it appeared to us that the matter was dismissed as one of lack of jurisdiction. We did, for reasons there stated, express our persuasion that that statute should be construed liberally, rather than narrowly as the Tax Court believes proper. We adhere to our prior conviction that liberal construction is required in the case of remedial legislation such as this. Carianni v. Schwenker, 38 N.J. Super. 350, 361 (App.Div.1955); see Service Armament Co. v. Hyland, 70 N.J. 550, 559 (1976). While the remand in this case and the publication of Flint have produced a more perfect understanding in us of the difficulties faced by the Tax Court with respect to attempted evasions of the ordinary appeal process, we think the confining and parochial view applied to this statute on this account should give way to the liberalism adjured by the above cases when the facts, as here, show so clearly an egregious result from an indisputable (and very significant) error.

Viewed from this pinnacle it can be seen that there is no real conflict between Sabella, a jurisdictional matter as the Tax Court judge said on the remand, and Bressler, in which the affirmance of the Tax Court resulted because "[t]he alleged mistake here involved the assessor's opinion or judgment." 190 N.J. Super. at 101. Nowhere in the matter before us is subjective judgment involved. The concern for "judgment decisions" reflected in Manczak v. Dover Tp., 2 N.J. Tax. 529, 535 (Tax Court 1981), simply does not rear its ugly head here. Nobody's judgment or opinion influenced the frontage of this property: it was 58.0 feet and not 580. Calling a chihuahua an elephant does not make the animal one and confining a chihuahua to an elephant pound because someone misdescribed the dog would make no less sense than the result in the Tax Court here. Some typist dropped a decimal point. Had a like mistake been made with respect to the dollar value of the assessment after

the assessor had filed his assessment even the Tax Court would have granted the relief under the statute. We see little distinction. In his written opinion in this matter, the Tax Court judge said, "The correction of errors statute refers to typographical errors, errors in transposing and mistakes in tax assessments," a precise description of exactly what happened in this case, "which ...


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