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Roberts v. City of Newark


February 20, 2009


On appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, Docket No. 6386-05.

Per curiam.


Argued December 15, 2008

Before Judges Lisa and Alvarez.

This is the second round in an appeal filed by Clarence P. Roberts of his 2002 real estate tax revaluation from the City of Newark. To reiterate the facts as set forth in our prior unpublished opinion, Roberts v. City of Newark, No. A-0215-06 (App. Div. December 18, 2007), in 2002, Roberts' home was mistakenly assessed as a three-family dwelling and valued at $101,200. The fair market value was reduced to $99,800 when he notified the City of the error.

Roberts proceeded to file a petition of appeal with the Essex County Board of Taxation contesting the revised assessment. As a result, the Board reduced the fair market value to $89,800 in 2005. Roberts subsequently appealed to the Tax Court, where his pro se complaint was dismissed with prejudice as he failed to provide "an appraisal report and/or list of comparable sales or rentals" as required in a case management order entered on January 23, 2006. For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the dismissal and reinstate the Tax Court appeal.

Two case management conferences were conducted by the Tax Court on December 8, 2005, and on January 23, 2006. The January 23 management order issued as a result of the second conference. Unfortunately, no record was made of either proceeding. The only transcript available is of the hearing that resulted in the dismissal on June 12, 2006.

It is apparent from our review of the transcript that Roberts had with him a copy of the petition that he filed with the Essex County Board of Taxation and that he attempted to produce it to the court. The petition included a list of what Roberts believed constituted "comparable sales" within the meaning of the term as found in the January 23, 2006 order.

It is also apparent from statements that Roberts made during oral argument that he believed that the information that he supplied on the petition complied with the January 23, 2006 order. The Tax Court judge attempted to explain the term to him on June 12, "[I]ts not just giving a list of properties. You have to show adjustments, the comparable[s]. I'm not sure if you understand, and I don't expect without being an attorney or an appraiser that you necessarily would understand all of that." It is not clear to us that to this date, Roberts understands what is necessary.

Rule 1:1-2 provides that all court rules shall be construed to secure a just determination, simplicity in procedure, fairness in administration and the elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay. Unless otherwise stated, any rule may be relaxed or dispensed with by the court in which the action is pending if adherence to it would result in an injustice.

As we noted in the first appeal, the management order as to discovery in this case was clearly in accord with Rule 8:6-1(b)(2). The City correctly states, "[R]ules would normally not be relaxed just because a litigant is pro se. A pro se litigant is required to follow the rules relevant to his case."

Unfortunately, however, because the management conferences were not recorded, and the recorded proceedings make abundantly clear that Roberts did not understand the main thrust of the management order or even the meaning of "comparable sales," we will vacate the prior dismissal and remand the matter for a hearing.

We hereby direct Roberts to file with the Tax Court and with the City Attorney who handled this appeal, in addition to the City itself, a list of comparable sales within the meaning of the term. The list of comparable sales, should Roberts choose to prepare one himself in accord with this order, must include photographs of the enumerated properties, a description of their condition, and other details justifying his reliance upon them. Specifically, Roberts must photograph and otherwise be prepared to discuss the similarities between his property and those that he asserts are in the appropriate range for setting the value of his home. Without a transcription of the management conferences conducted prior to the dismissal in this matter, we have no way to determine if Roberts should have understood what was intended by the case management order to the extent that his appeal should now be denied, as urged by the City.

Reversed and remanded.


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