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City of East Orange v. 280 South Harrison Street Associates

June 24, 1997

CITY OF EAST ORANGE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
280 SOUTH HARRISON STREET ASSOCIATES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Small

Plaintiff, City of East Orange, appeals from a judgment of the Essex County Board of Taxation reducing the 1995 added assessment against the subject property to the value of the property determined by the board's judgment concluding the appeal of the 1995 regular assessment against the property. The basis of the county board's judgment is its application of the Freeze Act, N.J.S.A. 54:3-26, to the judgment with respect to the 1995 regular assessment. The city asserts that the Freeze Act does not apply to the facts in this case. The defendant property owner has moved for summary judgment pursuant to R. 4:46.

For the tax year 1995, the property identified as Block 270, Lot 15, and located at 280 South Harrison Street in East Orange, was valued for assessment purposes as follows:

Land $304,000

Improvements 296,000

Total $600,000

The property was placed on the exempt list because on October 1, 1994, the assessing date for 1995, it was owned by the City of East Orange. N.J.S.A. 54:4-23 and 54:4-27.

On December 12, 1994, the property was purchased by RPM Development Corp. from the City of East Orange. On January 3 I, 1995, the defendant-taxpayer acquired the property from RPM Development Corp.

Although the property was listed on the tax rolls as exempt at the time it was acquired by the taxpayer, the taxpayer appealed the valuation determination of the assessor to the Essex County Board of Taxation in the name of the taxpayer's tax exempt predecessor (RPM Development Corp.). A hearing was held on July 11, 1995 before the Essex County Board of Taxation. The parties concede that they both presented testimony and other evidence on the issue of value. On July 14, 1995, the board issued a judgment reducing the valuation of the property as follows:

Land $100,000

Improvements 33,600

Total $133,600

The board, however, mistakenly removed the exempt status of the property and assessed the property at the reduced value. On July 20, 1995, the board corrected its error and restored the property to the exempt status list. The board explained its judgment on the face of the judgment form as "EXMPT VAL REDUCED FROM $600,000 TO $133,600." Neither the city nor the taxpayer filed an appeal to the Tax Court of either the July 14, 1995 or the July 20, 1995 judgments.

On or about October 1, 1995, the assessor made an added assessment prorated for 12 months *fn1 against the property as follows:

Land $304,000

Improvements 296,000

Total $600,000

The taxpayer timely appealed the added assessment to the Essex County Board of Taxation, and a hearing occurred on December 14, 1995. N.J.S.A. 54:4-63.11. The board refused to accept evidence on the issue of value and issued a judgment on December 29, 1995 reducing the total assessment to $133,600, citing the Freeze Act, N.J.S.A. 54:3-26, as the basis for its decision. The city then took this appeal from the December 29, 1995 county board judgment.

Taxpayer's summary judgment motion seeks to dismiss the city's appeal, arguing that the county board decision of July 20, 1995 was a conclusive and binding judgment for purposes of the Freeze Act because the issue of value was fully litigated, and it should not be compelled to litigate value for a second time. N.J.S.A. 54:3-26; City of Newark v. Fischer, 8 N.J. 191 (1951). The city argues that the July 1995 county board decision was void for lack of jurisdiction since the property was listed as exempt and there was no assessment ...


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