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Bernstein v. City of Atlantic City

May 17, 1996

JANICE BERNSTEIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF ATLANTIC CITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rimm

In this local property tax matter, a case of first impression, the issue before the court is whether a taxpayer who has paid the taxes based on an original assessment must pay the taxes resulting from an increase in the assessment by a county board of taxation in order to appeal the county board judgment to the Tax Court.

Plaintiff, Janice Bernstein, owns property located at 1301 Boardwalk, Unit 1710-1, in the City of Atlantic City, designated as Block C0011, Lot 196 WO3 on the municipal tax map. For the 1995 tax year, the subject property was originally assessed as follows:

Land $39,600

Improvements 39,000

Total $78,600.

This assessment resulted in a tax bill of $2,246.39 based on the City's 1995 tax rate of $2.858 per $100 of assessed value. On April 1, 1995, claiming the assessment was incorrect, plaintiff filed an appeal with the Atlantic County Board of Taxation. During 1995, plaintiff paid $2,246.39 to the City for the entire 1995 tax bill.

On September 20, 1995, the Atlantic County Board of Taxation held a hearing to consider plaintiff's tax appeal. In a memorandum of judgment dated November 9, 1995, and mailed on December 6, 1995, the Atlantic County Board of Taxation increased the assessment on plaintiff's land by $14,400 to $54,000 and decreased the assessment on the improvements by $3,000 to $36,000. The total assessment on the subject property was therefore increased for the 1995 tax year by $11,400 to $90,000.

On January 17, 1996, plaintiff appealed the judgment of the Atlantic County Board of Taxation by filing a complaint with the Tax Court. In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that the county board judgment was in excess of the true value of the subject property. Plaintiff also alleged "discrimination with respect to the assessment. . . ."

On March 20, 1996, the City filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to pay taxes. In her certification, Linda Steele, the municipal tax collector, stated that, as of February 13, 1996, there were unpaid taxes on the subject property amounting to $325.82, plus interest. She also stated that a tax bill for the $352.82 had been sent to the taxpayer. In fact, the City did not send a bill for this amount to the taxpayer, counsel for the City advising me of that fact during oral argument.

In response to the City's motion, plaintiff's counsel explained that the $352.82 deficiency, referred to by the municipal tax collector in her certification, constituted the amount of taxes that would result from the county board judgment that raised the total original assessment by $11,400. Plaintiff admits that this $325.82 was not paid to the City at the time her complaint was filed with the Tax Court or within forty-eight days of the mailing of the county board judgment on December 6, 1995. See N.J.S.A. 54:51A-1; N.J.S.A. 54:51A-9; and R. 1:3-3.

The payment of tax requirement for the filing of a complaint with the Tax Court appealing a county board judgment is set forth in N.J.S.A. 54:51A-1(b), which provides as follows:

At the time that a complaint has been filed with the tax court seeking review of the judgment of county tax boards, all taxes or any installments thereof then due and payable for the year for which review is sought must have been paid. No interest shall be due and payable by the appellant for the period from November 1 of the current tax year to the date of filing the complaint.

In accordance with the language of N.J.S.A. 54:51A-1(b), our Courts have consistently held that the taxes owed to a municipality for the year for which review is sought of an original assessment must have been paid as a "jurisdictional prerequisite [for] an appeal to the Tax Court from a county board judgment." Schneider v. City of East Orange, 196 N.J. Super. 587, 593 (App. Div. 1984), aff'd o.b., 103 N.J. 115, cert. denied, 479 U.S. 824, 107 S. Ct. 97, 93 L. Ed. 2d 48 (1986) (dealing with N.J.S.A. 54:2-39, the predecessor provision to N.J.S.A. 54:51A-1(b)); see also Echelon Glen Co-op. v. Voorhees Tp., 15 N.J. Tax 145, 153 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 138 N.J. 272 (1994); Stewart v. Hamilton Tp., 7 N.J. Tax 368 (Tax 1985).

If there is no motion to dismiss by the municipality in the county board based on unpaid taxes, a taxpayer has until the last day for filing an appeal to the Tax Court from the county board judgment to pay the taxes owed for the year in question. Olde Lafayette Village, Ltd. v. Lafayette Tp., 9 N.J. Tax 562, 571 (Tax 1988); Stewart v. Roxbury Tp., 4 N.J. Tax 658, 661 (Tax 1982). If the taxes have not been paid by the end of the time period for filing an appeal, the Tax Court ...


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