Submitted March 6, 2019
appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, Docket No.
Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti LLP, attorneys for
appellant (Stuart M. Lederman, of counsel and on the brief;
Rudy Randazzo, on the brief).
DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, PC,
attorneys for respondent (Sandra Belli, on the brief).
Judges Fuentes, Vernoia and Moynihan.
Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc. (Alcatel),  is the owner of real
property in the Township of Berkeley Heights on which is
located its North American headquarters. The Tax Court found
there are approximately 1.5 million square feet of
improvements on the 153.4 acre Berkeley Heights property - of
which Alcatel contends 53 acres are woodlands - designated on
the Township's tax map as block 3701, lot
Alcatel appeals from that portion of the Tax Court's
order, later confirmed as a final judgment, dismissing its
complaint that challenged the Township's 2015 denial of a
farmland assessment for the woodlands portion of the property
because Alcatel failed to respond to a request sent by the
Township's tax assessor pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-34.
Following our de novo review, we affirm substantially for the
reasons set forth in Judge Joshua D. Novin's cogent
54:4-34 requires, in part, every real property
owner, "on written request of the assessor . . . [to]
render a full and true account of his name and real property
and the income therefrom, in the case of income-producing
property." The Township's tax assessor forwarded by
certified mail, return receipt requested, a Chapter 91
request for income and expense data to:
Block: 3701 Lot: 1 4A
Property Location: 600 MOUNTAIN AVENUE BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J.
ALCATEL-LUCENT USA/ATN.CORP.COUNSEL 600 MOUNTAIN AVE-REAL EST
MURRAY HILL, N.J. 07974
undisputed that Alcatel received and did not respond to the
Chapter 91 request. Fifty-four days after the Township sent
the Chapter 91 request, LTI submitted an application for
farmland assessment, a woodland data form and a Forest
Management Plan to the assessor seeking an assessment for the
2015 tax year pursuant to the Farmland Assessment Act of 1964
(the Act), N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.1 to -23.23, for the woodland
portion of the property. The assessor denied the application
asserting the "[a]gricultural use is not [dominant]
Novin dismissed Alcatel's complaint challenging the
denial pursuant to that portion of Chapter 91 that provides
that if the property owner fails or refuses
to respond to the written request of the assessor within 45
days of such request . . . the assessor shall value his
property at such amount as he may, from any information in
his possession or available to him, reasonably determine to
be the full and fair value thereof. No appeal shall be heard
from the assessor's valuation and assessment with respect
to income-producing property where the owner has failed or
refused to respond to such written request.
contends the Tax Court erred in: extending the application of
the Chapter 91 preclusion penalty to its farmland assessment
appeal; applying the Chapter 91 preclusion penalty to the
woodland property because it is not income producing; and
formulating a new rule that misinterprets our prior holding
and undermines the legislative purpose of Chapter 91 and the
Act. It also argues that technical deficiencies in the
Township's Chapter 91 request bar preclusion of its
our review of a Tax Court decision is deferential, Estate
of Taylor v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 422 N.J.Super. 336,
341 (App. Div. 2011), because "judges presiding in the
Tax Court have special expertise," Glenpointe
Assocs. v. Twp. of Teaneck, 241 N.J.Super. 37, 46 (App.
Div. 1990), we review a Tax Court's legal determinations
de novo, United Parcel Serv. Gen. Servs. Co. v. Dir.,
Div. of Taxation, 430 N.J.Super. 1, 8 (App. Div. 2013),
aff'd, 220 N.J. 90 (2014). "Statutory
interpretation involves the examination of legal issues and
is, therefore, a question of law subject to de novo
review." Saccone v. Bd. of Trs. of Police &
Firemen's Ret. Sys., 219 N.J. 369, 380 (2014);
see also Twp. of Holmdel v. N.J. Highway Auth., 190
N.J. 74, 86 (2007).
goal in interpreting Chapter 91 and the Act, especially since
they deal with "taxation or exemption therefrom,"
is to determine and effectuate the Legislature's intent.
Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., v. Twp. of
Woodbridge, 73 N.J. 474, 478 (1977). "[T]he best
approach to the meaning of a tax statute is to give to the
words used by the Legislature 'their generally accepted
meaning, unless another or different meaning is expressly
indicated.'" Ibid. (quoting N.J. Power
& Light Co. v. Twp. of Denville, 80 N.J.Super. 435,
440 (App. Div. 1963)). We seek "further guidance only to
the extent that the ...