On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Ocean County.
Approved for Publication October 16, 1996.
Before Judges King, Keefe and Conley. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conley, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conley
The opinion of the court was delivered by
Defendants Rudolph and Sandra Rinderer appeal a denial of their motion for summary judgment and a grant of plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment which sets aside a 1995 "Certificate for Redemption of Tax Sale" executed and recorded by defendant Christine Dehnz, tax collector for the Borough of Beachwood. The execution and recording of that certificate discharged a tax certificate lien possessed by plaintiff on property then newly acquired by the Rinderers. The discharge was based upon payment by the Rinderers of $34.25. *fn1 Plaintiff has contended, however, that prior to the second quarter of 1994, he and/or his predecessors-in-title had paid taxes on the property since 1969 totalling $8,342.33. *fn2 The summary judgment order, from which defendants appeal, fixes the amount of plaintiff's lien for redemption purposes at $14,177.34 (the $8,342.33 plus interest, we presume).
On appeal, the Rinderers contend that a strict construction of N.J.S.A. 54:5-79, as applicable to tax certificates the viability of which continues beyond twenty years by virtue of continued tax payments, requires a reversal and entry of judgment for them. *fn3 Pursuant to that statute, the statutory twenty-year period of limitation for tax certificate liens is tolled when the lien holder "establishes that all property taxes have been paid by him, his heirs or assigns in each year since the purchase of the certificate." Defendants contend that since plaintiff has not continued to pay the taxes since the second quarter of 1994, his lien is void pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:5-79.
In our view, however, the critical inquiry in resolving the parties' dispute requires consideration of the statutory redemption procedures that we think the record, sparse though it may be, plainly shows were employed by both the tax collector and the Rinderers prior to the discharge of the tax certificate. If those procedures complied with the redemption statutes, the certificate was properly discharged in 1995 by the tax collector and defendants would be entitled to summary judgment. If not, plaintiff is entitled to proper redemption. Resolution of that issue, however, requires facts that are not sufficiently fleshed out in the present record. Finally, because the issues are peculiarly embedded in the tax statutes, we conclude the expertise and jurisdiction of the Tax Court is required. See N.J.S.A. 2B:13-2b.
Here are the facts as far as we can piece together and, since the matter was resolved on motions for summary judgment, viewed indulgently. Brill v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540, 666 A.2d 146 (1995). From the recording in 1970 of the tax certificate at issue, plaintiff and/or his predecessors-in-title continued to pay the property taxes. The record is not entirely clear, but it appears that at least since 1984, defendant tax collector had sent the tax bills to plaintiff and his wife, despite the fact that, typically, tax bills are sent to the owners of the property. N.J.S.A. 54:4-23, N.J.S.A. 54:4-64. See In re West Jersey Grove Camp Ass'n v. City of Vineland, 80 N.J. Super. 361, 365, 193 A.2d 785 (App. Div. 1963); Rainhold Holding Co. v. Freehold Tp., 14 N.J. Tax 266, 276 (Tax 1994), aff'd sub. nom., United States Postal Serv. v. Township of Freehold, ____ N.J. Tax ____ (App. Div. 1995) (1995 WL 870969).
Sometime between November 1993 and November 1994, apparently following a quiet title action of some kind, *fn4 the property was acquired by the Rinderers' predecessors-in-title through various deeds obtained from the heirs of the original owner and from a sheriff's deed. At some point during that time period, the tax collector stopped sending the tax bills to plaintiff.
In January 1995 the Rinderers entered into a contract for sale of the property and a closing occurred in March 1996. Three tax searches were obtained for the Rinderers prior to closing. The first search, obtained in February 1995, reflected the existence of plaintiff's tax certificate lien and included a statement by defendant tax collector that:
To the best of my knowledge the lien holder [plaintiff] has been paying the subsequent taxes. . . . This office has requested a notarized affidavit from the lien holder showing date of payments.
The second search, obtained on March 21, 1995, included an "amended" statement by the tax collector that:
To the best of my knowledge, the lien holder has been paying the subsequent taxes. The owner [predecessor-in-title] has advised me that they have paid the second half of 1994 and the first quarter 1995 taxes. There has been no affidavit filed [by plaintiff pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:5-60 *fn5 ], this office has ...