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Princeton Alliance Church v. Mount Olive Township

25 N.J. Tax 282 (2010)

TAXATION; EXEMPTIONS; APPEALS — The real property tax appeal statute envisions that a taxpayer will present proofs related to the valuation of its property, but the tax appeal does not concern valuation, but only concerns an exemption or partial exemption from real property taxation, the taxpayer need not present any witnesses at all and may merely present its legal arguments.

A church filed a property tax assessment appeal with the county tax board claiming that a portion of its property should be exempt from taxation. In support of its appeal, it submitted a brief that contained a statement of facts and legal arguments. When the church appeared at the hearing before the board, it stated that it was not contesting any factual issues and would therefore not be presenting any witnesses. Instead, the church desired to proceed with its presentation of legal arguments. The tax board dismissed the case for lack of prosecution. The church appealed this determination.

The Tax Court reversed, holding that when considering motions to dismiss for lack of prosecution, the Tax Court has the authority to determine, de novo, whether the county board’s dismissal was warranted. The Court ruled that under the applicable regulation, dismissal for lack of prosecution is only appropriate where the church fails to appear. This was not the case here, as the church appeared before the board. It also determined that the board’s insistence that the church call a witness meant that the board wrongly characterized the appeal as a valuation case where the presentation of proofs as to true value is required to overcome the presumption that current assessments are valid. In the instant case, the Court noted that the crux of the church’s appeal was that it was entitled to a partial exemption. The church was not challenging the property’s value assessment. Without reaching the merit of the church’s proposed argument, the Court held that church’s submission of a brief containing a statement of facts and legal arguments was sufficient to show that it intended to prosecute its appeal. Thus, the Court held that the board had applied the wrong legal standard when it dismissed the church’s appeal for lack of prosecution. Moreover, the Court held that even if the appeal constituted a valuation case, the dismissal was unwarranted because there was no statute, regulation or case that specifically requires a church to present witnesses to prosecute its appeal; the statute only envisioned “some proofs” relating to valuation to be presented by the church. Finally, the Court ruled that in order for the board to determine the appropriate taxation level and to establish whether a property is exempt, the board must consider legal arguments presented to it on appeal by the church.


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