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3085 Kennedy Realty Co. v. Tax Assessor of City of Jersey City

February 9, 1996

3085 KENNEDY REALTY CO., A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TAX ASSESSOR OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY, THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, AND BANKERS TRUST COMPANY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County.

Approved for Publication February 9, 1996.

Before Judges Long, Muir, Jr. and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brochin

The opinion of the court was delivered by BROCHIN, J.A.D.

Plaintiff 3085 Kennedy Realty Company was the owner of three contiguous parcels of real estate in Jersey City. A city-wide real property reevaluation to be effective for the tax years 1988 and thereafter valued the three parcels as follows: Parcel 1: $89,300; Parcel 2: $129,700; and Parcel 3: 746,700.

Despite these valuations, the three parcels were assessed as follows for the 1989 tax year: Parcel 1: $89,300; Parcel 2: $864,000; and Parcel 3: $1,710,000. Plaintiff appealed these assessments to the Hudson County Board of Taxation pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:3-21. On motion of the defendant municipality, the Board dismissed the appeals in accordance with N.J.S.A. 54:3-27 because the taxes had not been paid. Plaintiff did not appeal that dismissal.

For 1990, plaintiff's three parcels were assessed at the same values as for 1989. Plaintiff appealed his 1990 taxes directly to the Tax Court. See N.J.S.A. 54:3-21. *fn1 On the motion of the municipality, this appeal was also dismissed because taxes on the property had not been paid. Plaintiff did not appeal that dismissal.

According to plaintiff's brief, it did not contest the assessments for the tax years 1991 through 1993.

On November 15, 1990, Jersey City conducted a tax sale of plaintiff's properties and, for lack of any other buyer, acquired the tax sale certificates. On June 30, 1993, the municipality sold the certificates to defendant Banker's Trust Company. The certificates for Parcel 1 were subsequently purchased and redeemed.

In June and August 1994, Bankers Trust instituted suits to foreclose the taxpayer's equity of redemption in Parcels 2 and 3. By order to show cause and verified complaint, plaintiff filed a separate suit against Jersey City, its assessor, and Bankers Trust Company to stop the foreclosure. Plaintiff's complaint alleged that the conduct of Jersey City and its tax assessor deprived it of substantive due process and equal protection of the law; that the imposition of so burdensome a tax constituted the exercise of eminent domain; that the tax exceeded the upper limit of the common level range provided for in N.J.S.A. 54:51A-6 and N.J.S.A. 54:1-35a; and that the tax was the result of a mistake or error subject to correction pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:51A-7 and 54:4-54. The order to show cause obtained by plaintiff sought an injunction prohibiting Bankers Trust from foreclosing on or disposing of any interest in the real estate parcels and requiring defendants to take whatever actions were necessary to permit plaintiff to redeem the parcels upon paying the taxes lawfully due.

The Law Division denied the requested relief on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction. It held that the remedy provided by N.J.S.A. 54:51A-6, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-7 or N.J.S.A. 54:4-54 was available only in the Tax Court, and that the Appellate Division was the only forum in which relief could be sought from the Tax Court's dismissal of plaintiff's appeal.

By motion for reconsideration plaintiff argued that R. 4:69-1 et seq., governing actions in lieu of prerogative writs, conferred jurisdiction on the Law Division to grant the relief which it sought. The court denied the motion on the ground that it was authorized to proceed under that rule only in a case in which relief was, according to the terms of the rule, "not available under R. 2:2-3 or R. 8:2," i.e., not available in either the Appellate Division or the Tax Court.

Bankers Trust then moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint on the basis of these rulings denying both relief and reconsideration for lack of jurisdiction. A Law Division Judge other than the one who had made those rulings entered an order granting the dismissal motion. Although the order itself does not specify whether the dismissal was intended to be with or without prejudice, the motion Judge's brief letter opinion announcing his ruling declares that the dismissal was intended to be with prejudice.

Plaintiff has appealed from this dismissal order, arguing that the order was entered in error and, alternatively, that its complaint should not have been dismissed with prejudice. In support of the first argument, plaintiff asserts that the Judge who entered the dismissal order was not bound by the ruling of the Judge who entered the order denying relief for lack of jurisdiction and, citing General Motors Corporation v. City of Linden, 279 N.J. Super. 449, 653 A.2d 568 (App. Div. 1995), that the Law Division had jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. ยง 1983. Plaintiff contends that its right to challenge the municipality's assessment of its property for the 1989, 1990, and subsequent tax years was illusory because it was unable to make the ...


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