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Austin v. Township of Pemberton

25 N.J. Tax 362 (2010) (Unpublished)

TAXATION; APPEALS — A tax appeal is properly dismissed for lack of prosecution only if the taxpayer fails to produce “some evidence” of the value of the subject property and expert testimony is not the only kind of evidence that can be presented.

Three homeowners filed appeals with the county Board of Taxation challenging the assessments of their respective properties. One homeowner described the physical condition of his property, the circumstances surrounding the purchase, and the purchase price. After the hearing, the tax administrator stated that the lack of comparable sales equated to a lack of evidence and argued that the tax board should dismiss the tax appeal. The other two homeowners were about to present their cases using the same type of testimony as the first homeowner, but the tax board refused to hear their testimony. It then dismissed all three tax appeals for failure to prosecute. The homeowners challenged the dismissals and the Tax Court reversed.

The Tax Court held that a county board of taxation cannot dismiss a tax appeal for lack of prosecution just because the property owners cannot demonstrate sufficient evidence to win their tax appeal. According to a statute, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-1(c), a tax appeal is properly dismissed for lack of prosecution only if the taxpayer fails to produce “some evidence” of the value of the subject property. The Tax Court found that one of the homeowners satisfied the “some evidence” threshold when he offered testimony regarding the circumstances of his purchase, the purchase price, and the property’s characteristics. While the evidence supplied may not have been sufficient in the tax board’s view for a determination of the property’s value, that was irrelevant to the determination of whether or not the tax appeal should have been dismissed for failure to prosecute. The homeowner’s presentation constituted a good faith effort to explain his belief regarding the assessment of the property and was not a sham appearance before the tax board.

The Tax Court notes that county tax board hearings are, by design, less formal than judicial proceedings. They do not require extensive discovery and no statute requires expert testimony in order to prosecute a tax appeal. The Court noted that while complicated matters of valuation are not likely to be resolved solely by a taxpayer’s testimony without expert testimony, it is possible that a taxpayer’s testimony regarding his or her home together with details of a recent purchase may provide sufficient basis to adjust the tax valuation. Whether or not the testimony alone will be sufficient evidence to be successful in the end, such testimony clearly constitutes “some evidence” and precludes a dismissal based on lack of prosecution.

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