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Fisher v. City of Millville

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 7, 2017

FISHER, KRYSTAL and DAVID, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CITY OF MILLVILLE, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued May 10, 2017

         On appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, Docket Nos. 14080-2014 and 7736-2015, whose opinion is reported at 29 N.J.Tax 91 (Tax 2016).

          Todd W. Heck argued the cause for appellants (Testa Heck Scrocca & Testa, P.A., attorneys; Mr. Heck, on the briefs).

          Brock D. Russell argued the cause for respondent.

          Before Judges Lihotz, Hoffman and Whipple.

          OPINION

          LIHOTZ, P.J.A.D.

         Plaintiff Krystal Fisher appeals from a Tax Court order denying a personal residence real estate tax exemption, granted by the Legislature to certain disabled veterans.[1] In a written opinion, Tax Court Judge Mark Cimino reviewed the statute and concluded defendant, the City of Millville, correctly denied plaintiff's request for exemption. Fisher v. Millville, 29 N.J.Tax 91, 101-02 (Tax 2016). The judge found, although plaintiff is completely disabled as a result of her military service, her injuries did not occur "in direct support" of military operations in Afghanistan, which was required to claim the disabled veterans personal residence tax exemption.

         On appeal, plaintiff challenges the judge's statutory interpretation as "incorrect." We are not persuaded and affirm.

         The Tax Court's review resulted from cross-motions for summary judgment. Id. at 92. The parties submitted a joint statement of stipulated material facts. Ibid.

         In October 2002, plaintiff suffered injuries during an Army training exercise, when she fell from a two-story building at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Ibid. The injuries did not preclude her continued military service, and plaintiff was transferred to Fort Stewart, Georgia, in March 2003, where she was assigned to a unit scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. Id. at 93. However, in light of her injuries, plaintiff was not sent overseas. Instead, she remained at Fort Stewart, assigned to the "Rear Detachment" for her unit in Afghanistan. Ibid. In this role, plaintiff's duties included

shipping weapons, food, clothing and processed supplies for the overseas portion of her unit; keeping inventory logs of weapons utilized by her unit, including checking in and out each weapon; retrieving, processing, and formalizing reports for her unit overseas as to their military police activities; assembling protective shield units for Humvee military vehicles utilized in overseas combat; performing military police duties at Fort Stewart, a staging base; and participating in prisoner of war camp studies and simulations at Fort Stewart along with the development of prisoner camp protocols to be utilized overseas. Moreover, while stationed at Fort Stewart, plaintiff continued to train for potential deployment to Afghanistan as part of the military police.
[Ibid.]

         The Army honorably discharged plaintiff on December 20, 2003. On May 21, 2014, she was declared 100 percent disabled by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.[2]

         Plaintiff submitted an application to defendant, claiming a disabled veteran's property tax exemption, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30. Ibid. The Millville City Tax Assessor issued a notice of disallowance on June 26, 2014. Ibid. Plaintiff appealed to the Cumberland County Board of Taxation, which concluded the exemption was properly denied. Id. at 94. Plaintiff appealed to the Tax Court, which conducted a hearing on the parties' respective motions for summary judgment. Analyzing the requirements for exemption, the judge concluded plaintiff's injury was not suffered "in direct support" of military operations in Afghanistan. Id. at 101. He denied plaintiff's motion and granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. Id. at 102.

         We review an order granting summary judgment applying the same standard guiding the trial judge. Conley v. Guerrero, 22 8 N.J. 339, 346 (2017). "[S]ummary judgment will be granted if there is no genuine issue of material fact and 'the moving party is entitled to a judgment or order as a matter of law. '" Ibid. (quoting R. 4:46-2(c)).

         The issue presented here is a legal question requiring examination of statutory interpretation. "An appellate court interprets . . . statutes . . . de novo." Meehan v.Antonellis, 226 N.J. 216, 230 (2016) (quoting Mort. Grader, ...


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