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City of Atlantic City v. Greate Bay Hotel and Casino, Inc.

304 N.J. Super. 457, 701 A.2d 458 (App. Div. 1997)

TAX APPEALS—In a property tax appeal matter, a taxpayer first filed an action filed with the county Board of Taxation. The municipality then filed an appeal with the Tax Court. For policy reasons, the Court overrode the usual “first to file” rule and granted exclusive jurisdiction to the Tax Court.

Two appeals on the assessed value of land were filed, one in the Tax Court by the taxing jurisdiction, and a prior one by the taxpayer to the county Board of Taxation. The applicable statute provides that a taxpayer “may appeal to the County board of taxation…provided, however, that any such taxpayer may file a complaint directly with the tax court if the value of the property exceeds $750,000.” The taxpayer contended that its prior filing with the County Board of Taxation extinguished the jurisdiction of the Tax Court, unless and until the County Board’s decision was appealed.

The Tax Court claimed exclusive jurisdiction over tax appeals concerning the properties in question and directed the taxpayer to withdraw its appeal to the County Board. The Tax Court asserted jurisdiction based on a state Supreme Court decision stating that, if timely and properly filed, a complaint in Tax Court vests that court with exclusive jurisdiction. The Court concurred with case law holding that if either the taxpayer or the taxing district chooses to file an appeal, the statute clearly indicates an intent to expedite and simplify the appeal process by having the parties go directly to Tax Court when the assessment exceeds $750,000. Legislative intent also clearly demonstrated to the Tax Court its own jurisdictional superiority with regard to tax appeals on assessments exceeding $750,000. Extensive discovery, complicated testimony and a larger time in which to hear appeals were all factors which gave the Tax Court priority over a County Board of Taxation. The Court also felt its decision would save time, since in any event one of the parties could appeal to the Tax Court following the county’s decision. Furthermore, the Court found the taxpayer to be wrong regarding its claim that the County Board had jurisdiction because the appeal was filed there first. The Court stated that the “first to file” rule is not absolute in New Jersey, but is merely a general principle that may or may not be followed after reviewing other case-specific factors. Finally, the Court held there was no concurrent jurisdiction issue because this dispute was between a court and an administrative agency, citing precedent establishing the superiority of a court.

In its one paragraph decision, the Appellate Division affirmed the grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the Tax Court based on the reasons expressed in the “thoughtful opinion” of the Tax Court.


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