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Gallagher v. First Dependable Mortgage Co.

February 21, 1992

JEANNE P. GALLAGHER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIRST DEPENDABLE MORTGAGE CO., INC., DEFENDANT



Fast, J.s.c.

Fast

Plaintiff's complaint recites, inter alia, that: plaintiff successfully prosecuted a real estate tax appeal for the defendant in Jersey City, and obtained a "reduction in the defendant's Real Estate taxes on this property with a cash refund to the plaintiff of [$3,645.50] for the year 1990", that defendant paid a retainer of $125.00 and there is a balance due of $786.57.

Plaintiff testified that the reduction was a settlement negotiated by her in behalf of defendant with the attorney for Jersey City and that the assessment was reduced from $226,400 to $125,000. Plaintiff is not an attorney.

Plaintiff, on presentation of this claim in the Small Claims Court, emphasized that she does not, and can not, cross-examine witnesses because she is not an attorney; she is an appraiser. However, she disputed the idea that she had been engaged in the practice of law.

Evidence submitted in this action by the plaintiff included a memorandum dated March 5, 1991 from the plaintiff to the defendant reciting, inter alia, that:

"Since the appeal was filed in the name of a Corporation, the Stipulation must be signed by an Attorney at Law. [sic] A Corporation must be represented by an Attorney."

The bill submitted to defendant was referenced for "tax appeal, inspection, appraisal, appearance and settlement of claim." It recited an "agreed fee -- 25%".

Correspondence from plaintiff indicated that she is the president of State Wide Tax Appeal/Appraisal Service.

It is my opinion that the complaint must be dismissed. The instant case is surprisingly similar to Stack v. P.G. Garage, Inc., 7 N.J. 118, 80 A.2d 545 (1951), also coincidentally relating to a tax appeal before the Hudson County Tax Board. The plaintiff in that case, likewise not an attorney, prepared and filed a petition of appeal and engaged an attorney to examine and cross-examine witnesses at the hearing.

In the Stack case, the Supreme Court of New Jersey also denied relief to the plaintiff, noting that ". . . it is the character of the acts performed and not the place where they are done that is decisive" to determine the practice of law. It is not necessarily limited to the conduct of cases in court but is engaged in whenever and wherever legal knowledge, training, skill and ability are required.

The Court also stated that:

"There can be little doubt that the jurisdiction of the county tax board is quasi -judicial in nature and that the prosecution of an appeal ...


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