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Ocean Pines v. Borough of Point Pleasant

Decided: September 26, 1988.

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



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Clifford, J.

Clifford

This appeal invites interpretation of N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, which limits the right to appeal the valuation of income-producing properties. Plaintiff's efforts to appeal the assessment of its property under the cited statute were rejected by the Ocean County Board of Taxation and the Tax Court. The Appellate Division reversed the order of dismissal and "remanded to the Tax Court for the consideration of the claim of unreasonableness * * * cognizable under N.J.S.A. 54:4-34." Ocean Pines, Ltd. v. Borough of Point Pleasant, 213 N.J. Super. 351, 356 (1986). We affirm.

I

On February 15, 1984, plaintiff, Ocean Pines, Ltd., purchased a twenty-unit garden apartment complex (the property), an income-producing property located in the defendant Borough of Point Pleasant. The purchase price was $795,000. On March 26, 1984, in order to assess the property for the 1985 tax year, the Borough's tax assessor sent a written notice to plaintiff requesting that plaintiff provide, within forty-five days, records of income and expenses for the property for the tax year 1983. Although plaintiff admits to having received the request, it did not respond within the forty-five-day period, apparently believing that its status as a recent purchaser exempted it from compliance. Based on the information otherwise available to him, the assessor valued the property at $692,700. The assessment immediately preceding plaintiff's purchase was $500,800.

Plaintiff appealed the assessment to the Ocean County Board of Taxation (the Board), seeking a revaluation of the property to $229,500. At the Board hearing, plaintiff submitted for the first time "income and expense projections" for the property, as well as financial statements for the property from the date of purchase through the date of the hearing. Plaintiff based its request for a reassessment on those documents.

The Borough moved to dismiss the petition under N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, which provides in pertinent part that "[n]o 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 * * *." The statute also allows a county board to permit an untimely submission of the requested information "where it appears that the owner, for good cause shown, could not furnish the information within the required period of time." The Board dismissed the petition, and plaintiff appealed to the Tax Court, requesting a revaluation to $627,794. Plaintiff also challenged the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, wherefore the court granted the Attorney General leave to intervene as a party defendant.

Plaintiff argued before the Tax Court that it did not respond to the request for information because as a recent purchaser of the property, it did not have the income and expense records for the time period that preceded its purchase. This, plaintiff argued, constituted sufficient "good cause" under N.J.S.A. 54:4-34 to excuse its failure to have supplied the requested records within the statutory time frame. The only substantive claim argued before the Tax Court was that the Borough had failed to apply the "Chapter 123 ratio" to the appraised value, and that plaintiff was entitled as a matter of law to have the ratio applied and the valuation reduced. See N.J.S.A. 54:1-35a and 54:51A-6. On the Borough's motion, the Tax Court held that because plaintiff's appeal was barred by N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, the complaint should be dismissed.

The Appellate Division reversed the order of dismissal and remanded the matter to the Tax Court. 213 N.J. Super. at 356. The court agreed with the lower tribunals that under N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, plaintiff's failure to provide the requested information within forty-five days barred its subsequent appeal seeking a reassessment based on those requested data. Id. at 354. The Appellate Division also agreed that plaintiff had not satisfied the "good cause" provision of the statute. Ibid. Nevertheless,

the court concluded that plaintiff's failure to supply the requested data did not preclude plaintiff from seeking all relief from the assessment. Rather, the Appellate Division held that plaintiff was entitled on both statutory and constitutional grounds to challenge the reasonableness of the assessor's valuation of the property. Id. at 355-56.

The Borough and the Attorney General filed petitions for certification, and plaintiff filed a cross-petition, all of which we ...


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