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Village Supermarkets Inc. v. Township of West Orange

Decided: May 20, 1987.

VILLAGE SUPERMARKETS, INC., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WEST ORANGE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT. CENTRE PROPERTIES CO., PLAINTIFF, V. TOWNSHIP OF WEST ORANGE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 206 N.J. Super. 597 (1986).

For affirmance as modified and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'Hern, J.

O'hern

[106 NJ Page 629] This appeal concerns the standing or authority of a shopping center tenant to contest the assessment of municipal taxes. The appeal arises in the context of a lease that requires the tenant to pay, as part of its rent, for all taxes assessed against the occupied building and its improvements and an allocated share of the assessment of the common areas of the shopping center. The Tax Court dismissed the tenant's appeals for lack of jurisdiction. 6 N.J. Tax. 481 (1984). The Appellate Division reversed, holding that such a tenant may be considered an

aggrieved taxpayer within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 54:3-21, which grants the right to appeal local property assessments. 206 N.J. Super. 597 (1986). We now modify that interpretation of the statute with certain additional qualifications about the right of tenants to prosecute such appeals.

I.

N.J.S.A. 54:3-21, in pertinent part, provides:

A taxpayer feeling aggrieved by the assessed valuation of his [real] property, * * * may, on or before August 15, appeal to the county board of taxation by filing with it a petition of appeal * * *.

West Orange argues that a tenant, not being the owner of property, is simply not the one aggrieved by the assessment. As outlined in the reported opinions below, the issue reached the Tax Court by different routes for different tax years. However, we need recite only the essential factual background. Village Supermarkets is the tenant in possession of a supermarket in a suburban shopping center in West Orange, New Jersey. Other tenants include a movie theater and various other retail uses. Under the terms of its lease, Village Supermarkets is required to pay as additional rent to its landlord all of the taxes on the building and associated land, and a proportionate share of the taxes on the common areas. It has no obligation to pay and pays no taxes to West Orange.

When it appealed the 1979 and 1980 assessments to the County Tax Board, the Board dismissed those appeals. Village Supermarkets appealed those dismissals to the Tax Court under N.J.S.A. 54:3-26a and 54:51A-13, and directly appealed the 1981 assessment to the Tax Court under N.J.S.A. 54:3-21 and 54:51A-2. The direct appeal was taken in the name of Centre Properties Co., the landlord. N.J.S.A. 54:3-21 allows an aggrieved taxpayer to file a complaint directly with the tax court on or before August 15, if the assessed valuation of the property subject to appeal exceeds $750,000. N.J.S.A. 54:51A-2 requires the complainant to file a copy of the complaint with the

assessor and with the clerk of the taxing district, who then notifies the collector and other municipal officials.

At this point, the landlord shopping center moved to intervene in the Tax Court proceedings and to have the three complaints dismissed for want of jurisdiction. The Tax Court, in a written opinion, granted the motions. 6 N.J. Tax. at 488. In addition to ruling that the taxpayer lacked direct standing to prosecute the appeals, it concluded that in the absence of a written provision in the lease conferring on the tenant the right ...


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