A Municipality’s Credibility Matters in Chapter 91 Actions

A recent decision by the New Jersey Tax Court highlights that a municipality’s credibility matters, particularly in cases involving compliance with N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, commonly known as Chapter 91. In R&M Mfg. v. Twp. of Monroe, the Court approved the Township’s motion to dismiss a tax appeal because it found the property’s owner’s reason for failing to respond to a Chapter 91 request to be less credible.

A Municipality’s Credibility Matters in Chapter 91 Actions

The Facts of the Case

Plaintiff (R&M) filed a complaint challenging the its 2015 tax assessment for the subject property as not reflective of the fair market value. The Township of Monroe timely filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. In support of the motion, the assessor certified that he sent R&M a Chapter 91 request by certified mail return receipt requested. The letter asked R&M to provide income and expense (I&E) data on an attached Statement of I&E for Income producing Properties and Schedule A to the Statement. Included were instructions to the Schedule, and a copy of N.J.S.A. 54:4-34. The assessor s certification attached a sample copy of the standard transmittal letter [and enclosures with that letter] sent to Taxpayers.

The sample transmittal letter, I&E Statement, and Schedule A, do not identify either R&M or the Subject. Rather, they have affixed a label copy that identified another property and property owner in the Township. The copy of the certified mail receipt and green card correctly identify the subject property, its location and mailing address in Parsippany, New Jersey. The green card shows delivery and receipt of the certified mailing on November 5, 2014.

In response to the motion to dismiss, R&M claimed that it never received the Chapter 91 request, and in any event, had it received the sample request, it would not have responded since the sample request referenced some other property and did not contain any identification of the subject property.

The Township contended that the Chapter 91 request sent to R&M would have contained a label that would have referenced or identified only the subject property and noted that the subject property was the only property in the Township with a mailing address in Parsippany, and there was no proof that R&M owned (or its property manager managed) several properties in the Township for there to be any confusion as to property identification. Accordingly, the Township argued that the only logical inference from these facts is that R&M received the Chapter 91 request, and its assertions to the contrary lack credibility.

The Court’s Decision

The Tax Court agreed. Because it found the Township’s assertions more credible, it dismissed the tax appeal, subject to a reasonableness hearing under Ocean Pines Ltd. v. Borough of Point Pleasant.

As explained by the court:

In light of R&M s acknowledgement of receipt on the green card, and its contention that it does not argue that the motion should be denied because of the inclusion of a sample request, the court finds the Township’s certification more credible as to the mailing of, and receipt by R&M of the assessor’s November 3, 2 014 Chapter 91 request.

With regard to the propriety of including a sample request, the court did not reach the issue. However, it did note that it was not convinced by the Township’s argument that use of a sample was valid because one was successfully used in a Chapter 91 motion in another case.

For more information about Chapter 91 compliance, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.

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