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O’Rourke v. Township of Fredon

25 N.J. Tax 443 (2010)

TAXATION; APPEALS — Neither a municipality nor a County Board of Taxation may impose a postmark rule with respect to the filing of tax appeals because there is no statutory party to allow such a rule and the requirement of such appeals is that they be filed on or before the deadline date and that copies be sent to the tax assessor and the Municipal Clerk by that date.

By overnight delivery, a taxpayer filed an appeal of a municipality’s tax assessment with the County Board. The taxpayer’s attorney also alleged that he served, via regular mail, a copy of the petition upon the municipality’s tax assessor and clerk. According to the attorney, the envelopes had appropriate postage affixed and were properly addressed. All of that had been done on March 30 while facing an April 1 deadline for the filing of such tax appeal. The municipality’s clerk, on the other hand, certified that on April 3, a large envelope, postmarked April 2, was delivered to the municipal building and was not addressed to her as the Municipal Clerk. The municipality also contended that its Tax Assessor never received a copy of the petition. Based on that set of facts, the municipality moved before the County Board to dismiss the tax appeal for, among other things, failure to properly serve the petition. The County Board obliged by entering judgment against the taxpayer. The taxpayer appealed to the New Jersey Tax Court.

“Practice before the County Boards of Taxation is governed by an extensive statutory and regulatory scheme.” One applicable rule is that the petition of appeal generally must be filed on or before April 1 of the year for which the real property tax assessment becomes effective. Appeals must be in writing, using prescribed forms. “Furthermore, ‘[a] petitioner must file a copy of each petition with the assessor and its municipal clerk personally or by regular mail. ... Proof of filing may be by receipt stamp of the taxing district or affidavit of service.’” Each county board is empowered to adopt “such standard petitions of appeal, rules, regulations and procedures as are prescribed by the Director of the Division of Taxation, and issue such direction as may be necessary to carry into effect” the law.

In an earlier 2010 case, “the Tax Court ruled that for appeals filed directly with the Tax Court, [the applicable statutes and rules do not] impose a strict April 1 deadline by which to file or a serve a copy of the complaint upon the Tax Assessor or Municipal Clerk.” In that earlier decision, the “court determined that to impose such a deadline would have required it to add language to” the applicable statute “which the statute’s plain meaning and legislative history did not support.” Here, the municipality argued that since the earlier (2010) case “involved a property tax appeal filed directly with the Tax Board instead of an appeal filed with the County Board of Taxation,” the ruling did not apply to this situation. It pointed to the county’s instructions which read: “[t]he original petition must be filed with the County Tax Board no later than April 1st ... . A copy must be served upon the Assessor of the municipality, postmarked no later than April 1st” and “[a] copy must be served upon the Clerk of the municipality, postmarked no later than April 1st.” Based on those instructions, the County Board contended that the April 1 postmark was a “de facto” requirement implicit in the Standard Petition Form as prescribed and mandated by the Director under her statutory regulatory authority.”

The Tax Court rejected the municipality’s arguments, pointing out that “County Boards of Taxation are ‘creatures of the legislature and have only the powers conferred upon them by the express language of the statutes or by the necessary implication therefrom.’” Furthermore, “[c]ounty boards of taxation are not part of New Jersey’s judicial branch of government; however, in hearing tax appeals, county boards are administrative agencies who exercise quasi-judicial jurisdiction.” Basically, the Tax Court stated its position by citing a 1976 New Jersey Supreme Court case which read, in part: “an administrative interpretation which attempts to add to a statute something which is not there can furnish no sustenance to the enactment.” Consequently, the Court found that, “in appeals before County Boards of Taxation, neither N.J.S.A. 54:3-21 nor N.J.A.C. 18:12A-1.6(j) imposes a strict April 1 deadline for service of a petition of appeal upon the Tax Assessor or Municipal Clerk.” Furthermore, the Court found “that the County Board overstepped its authority when it promulgated its own rule that requires an April 1 postmark deadline for service upon the Municipal Clerk and Tax Assessor.”

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