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James-Dale Enterprises, Inc. v. Township of Berkeley Heights

26 N.J. Tax 117 (2011)

TAXATION; CHAPTER 91 — A tax assessor has no obligation to explain the consequences of a taxpayer’s failure to respond to a Chapter 91 request if it includes a current version of the statute with the request itself.

A municipal tax assessor sent a written request for income and expense information to a commercial property owner regarding to help in setting the owner’s tax assessment for a particular year. The request also included a copy of N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, commonly known as Chapter 91. However, the taxpayer failed to respond to the assessor’s request. So, the assessor set the assessment without the benefit of the taxpayer’s response.

The taxpayer sued to challenge the assessment. In response, the municipality asked the Court to dismiss the suit based on the taxpayer’s failure to respond to the assessor’s request for income. Under Chapter 91, failure to respond may preclude a property owner from filing a tax appeal. The taxpayer opposed the motion, claiming that the tax assessor’s actual request failed to accurately explain the consequences of a failure to respond. In response, the municipality argued that the statute did not obligate an assessor to explain the consequences and that furnishing a copy of the statute text was enough to inform the taxpayer of the appeal-preclusion provisions of Chapter 91.

The Tax Court declined to follow the suggestion in a 2004 case, Southland Corp. v. Township of Dover, 21 N.J. Tax 573, 578 (Tax 2004), that the Chapter 91 request “must spell out the consequences of failure to comply with the assessor’s demand, namely a bar to the taxpayers taking of an appeal from its assessment.” Instead, it followed the decision in Pisani v. Township of Wayne, 13 N.J. Tax 412 (Tax 1993) and held that a municipal tax assessor’s Chapter 91 request need not explain the consequences of failure to respond in a timely fashion. According to the Court, including a current version of the statute with the request is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of Chapter 91. The statute clearly explains and speaks for itself and provides the clearest notice of the law possible. The Court looked to the plain language of the statute and held that the Legislature did not require a tax assessor to explain the meaning of Chapter 91.

The taxpayer also contended that the assessor’s request for income and expense information contained a misrepresentation because the assessor had written that a failure to comply with the request “may result in dismissal” of an appeal filed by a taxpayer who does not respond to the assessor’s request. The taxpayer urged that the request should have said “will be dismissed.” The Court disagreed, ruling that the “may result in a dismissal” was accurate and not misleading. There are circumstances under which an appeal filed by a taxpayer who fails to respond to an assessor’s request may not be dismissed, though not here. A dismissal is not automatic. Therefore, the Court granted the municipality’s motion to dismiss.


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