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Ocean Pines v. Borough of Point Pleasant

Decided: October 22, 1986.

OCEAN PINES, LTD., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BOROUGH OF POINT PLEASANT, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, V. W. CARY EDWARDS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEFENDANT-INTERVENOR-RESPONDENT



On appeal from final order of Tax Court.

Furman, Dreier and Shebell. The opinion of the court was delivered by Dreier, J.A.D.

Dreier

[213 NJSuper Page 352] Plaintiff has appealed from a judgment of the Tax Court dismissing plaintiff's complaint for failure to comply with N.J.S.A. 54:4-34. Plaintiff contends that the trial judge misapplied the statute, but, if the judge correctly applied the statute, then the statute itself is unconstitutional.

On February 15, 1984, plaintiff purchased a garden apartment complex in the Borough of Point Pleasant. In late March or early April, the principal tax assessor requested income and expense data for the complex. The written request, sent by certified mail, was received by plaintiff April 6, 1984, but plaintiff made no response. Nonetheless, on August 15, 1985, plaintiff filed a petition with the Ocean County Board of Taxation requesting the reduction of its assessment. The purchase price had been $795,000; the new assessment was for $692,700; and plaintiff requested a reassessment for $229,500. The assessment immediately prior to plaintiff's purchase had been for $500,800. Plaintiff subsequently appealed to the Tax Court and requested reassessment for $627,794. The "Chapter 123 ratio" in effect in the Borough in 1984, when the 1985 assessment was established, was 90.63%. The sole substantive point raised by plaintiff in its brief on appeal before the Tax Court was that the municipality improperly failed to apply the Chapter 123 ratio to the value set by the appraiser, and that it was entitled as a matter of law to have the ratio applied and the valuation so reduced. At oral argument below plaintiff also urged that the reassessment after sale was an unjustified "spot assessment." The Borough argued that plaintiff is precluded by N.J.S.A. 54:4-34 from appealing. The State has intervened here to uphold the constitutionality of the statute, since plaintiff had conditionally attacked the statute if it is interpreted as precluding all appeals.

N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, as amended by L. 1979, c. 91, § 1, commonly known as "Chapter 91," limits the right to appeal the valuation of income-producing property as follows:

Every owner of real property of the taxing district shall, on written request of the assessor, made by certified mail, render a full and true account of his name and real property and the income therefrom, in the case of income-producing property, and produce his title papers, and he may be examined on oath by the assessor, and if he shall fail or refuse to respond to the written request of the assessor within 45 days of such request, or to testify on oath when required, or shall render a false or fraudulent account, the assessor shall value his property at such amount as he may, from any information in his possession

or available to him, reasonably determine to be the full and fair value thereof. No appeal shall be heard from the assessor's valuation and assessment with respect to income-producing property where the owner has failed or refused to respond to such written request for information within 45 days of such request or to testify on oath when required, or shall have rendered a false or fraudulent account. The county board of taxation may impose such terms and conditions for furnishing the requested information where it appears that the owner, for good cause shown, could not furnish the information within the required period of time. In making such written request for information pursuant to this section the assessor shall enclose therewith a copy of this section.

We agree with the trial judge that generally where plaintiff challenges the assessment of its income-producing property, there is to be no appeal permitted where the owner has failed to respond to a timely request by the assessor, absent a showing of "good cause" that the information could not be furnished within time. Under the facts of this case, the Tax Court correctly held that plaintiff, having failed to satisfy the "good cause" provision, should not be permitted to submit data or experts to interpret the same to support an alternate assessment.

Notwithstanding a single provision in the legislative statement attached to the original bill that the hearing on the appeal would be precluded "unless and until the required information is provided," we disagree with plaintiff's contention that there is merely a deferral of the hearing until the information is submitted. Subject to the "good cause" relaxation provided in the statute, the plain meaning of the statute precludes appeals asserting claims for revaluation based upon the economic data withheld by the taxpayer. The statutory timetable imposed upon an assessor to assemble data preparatory to making assessments precludes our interpreting the statute to permit attenuated periods where assessments would be considered merely tentative. In fact this was the very situation that Chapter 91 was enacted to avoid.

We further determine that neither plaintiff's procedural nor substantive due process rights were violated by a strict enforcement of N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, since there is within its terms a relaxation provision. Also, the assessment permitted by the

statute when the taxpayer fails to comply is a valuation of the "property at such amount as [the assessor] may, from any information in his possession or available to him, reasonably determine to be the full and fair value thereof." This is in full compliance with N.J. Const. (1947) Art. VIII, § 1, par. 1(a). Therein, however, lies the single possible fallacy in the trial judge's blanket preclusion of appeal except for good cause shown concerning the unavailability of financial data. ...


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