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Morey v. Borough of Wildwood Crest

A-668-98T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)

TAXATION; ASSESSMENTS—Total avoidance of a request for an Annual Statement of Income and Expenses is indicative of a lack of good cause, and the tax assessor’s valuation is deemed to be correct.

Pursuant to N.J.S. 54:4-34, a municipality’s tax assessor mailed a form entitled “Annual Statement of Income and Expenses for 1997” to a property owner and indicated that the form “must be completed and returned on or before [a given date].” Such an information request is referred to as a “Chapter 91 request.” Under the applicable statute, if an owner of real property fails or refuses to respond to a Chapter 91 request within forty-five days, the assessor may value the property on the house based on any information in the assessor’s possession or otherwise available and reasonably determine the full and fair value thereof. No appeal can be heard from the assessor’s valuation and assessment of income-producing property where the owner has failed or refused to respond to a Chapter 91 request. The county board of taxation may impose terms and conditions for furnishing the requested information where it appears that the owner, for good cause shown, could not furnish the information within the required period of time. When the property owner finally responded, its submission was nearly 3-1/2 months late. After submitting its response, the property owner filed a complaint, contesting its property’s assessed valuation. The municipality responded by moving to have the complaint dismissed for failure to comply with the statute and also sought an order precluding the owner from introducing any income information. If the municipality’s requests were met, the property owner could only have a hearing that focused on whether the assessor’s valuation was reasonable given the data available at the time of the evaluation and the methodology used by the assessor.

In opposition to the municipality’s motion, the property owner, filed a certification which stated that she suffered from a debilitating illness, that her husband’s health had begun to fail (subsequently resulting in his death) at about the time of the Chapter 91 request, and that during the time between the request and her husband’s death, her time was consumed with his health problems as well as her own. The lower court questioned why the property owner could not have someone else respond for her and noted that the property owner did not claim that she was unable to write a letter to the assessor telling why she couldn’t answer the request. In summary, the lower court indicated that because the property owner made no response whatsoever within the forty-five day time period, it would not reach the issue of good cause. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision, pointing out that the New Jersey Supreme Court perceived the Chapter 91 statutory purpose as assisting assessors by providing timely and sufficient information that could be used to make an assessment without wasting unnecessary time and effort in litigation. Further, the Court noted that while the property owner was unable to answer the Chapter 91 request because of serious illnesses, the owner continued to run a four million dollar business. “In short, even when we consider the taxpayers’ condition during the forty-five day period, the evidence does not reflect an inability to respond in any fashion.” A total avoidance of a request during the forty-five day period, even under the facts of this particular case, could not be found to be good cause.


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