Full Case (PDF)

The decision has both substantive and procedural components:

1) Substantively, the decision upholds the trial court’s decision finding that the property was improperly reassessed on a selective basis both with regard to the assessor’s reassessment methodology in general for the relevant tax years, and also as that methodology was applied to the property in particular.

2) Procedurally, the appellate division found that the trial court properly refused to consider on a motion for reconsideration additional facts that were in appellant’s possession during the initial summary judgment motion but were not presented.

As a matter of factual background, the evidence presented to the trial court demonstrated that the Town of Cornwall underwent a town revaluation in 2000, under the former Town Assessor, Roland Tiffany. Upon taking office in 2002, the current assessor, Ronald Fiorentino, concluded that there were errors in the revalued assessment roll, and prepared a plan to review every property in the Town to correct the errors (which plan we understand was still in progress during 2010). Under the plan, the assessor would, among other things, correct property cards and then reassess the properties based on the changes.

As a matter of legal background, when a taxpayer challenges a change in assessment in a tax year in which there is no town-wide reassessment, the assessor is required to provide an explanation of both the change in assessment on the tax payer’s parcel specifically, and also the assessment methodology in general for the tax year.

In our case, the assessor changed the tax assessment on the petitioner’s property, but, when challenged, the assessor did not provide any information to the trial court regarding the change on the property in particular, except to characterize it as an “equalization” change. As for the general methodology, the assessor argued that the change was made pursuant to the town-wide “plan” to review all properties in the town and reassess the properties when he found errors.

The trial court found that the assessor improperly reassessed the property on a selective basis because (1) the assessor provided almost no information as to his methodology for reassessing the subject property in particular and (2) the assessor did not demonstrate that the town was following an equitable, comprehensive, written plan directed to the revaluation of all the properties in the town (but instead was selecting only some properties for reassessment in each tax year). The trial court’s decision was affirmed by the Appellate Division.

The decision arguably may impact, and benefit, any taxpayer in the Town of Cornwall who was selected for reassessment during the time the “plan” was implemented, from 2002 to 2010, especially if the reassessment was made on an “equalization” basis. The taxpayer may not challenge the taxes paid in previous years, but may only file a grievance for tax year 2010 and going forward, based on an allegedly improper re-assessment.