Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Tax Law
Appeal of Eleonora Porobic
This case involved a challenge to the Town of Bartlett’s 2018 tax assessment of a single-family home located on 0.88 acres of land owned by petitioner Eleonora Porobic. In 2017, the property was assessed at $206,000. In 2018, following the construction of an addition to the house and the clearing of trees, which expanded a view of the mountains, as well as a “full update” of property values in the Town by its new assessing contractor, Avitar Associates of New England, Inc., the property was assessed at $408,400. After the Town denied Porobic’s abatement request, she appealed to the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA), objecting to the Town’s position that the value of the land had increased by $153,000 as a result of the expanded view of the mountains. Porobic submitted an appraisal of the property prepared by Nanci Stone-Hayes, a certified general appraiser, valuing the property at a fair market value of $270,000 (Hayes Appraisal), and argued that she was entitled to an abatement based on that valuation. The Town, however, defended its assessment, arguing that the Hayes Appraisal understated the value of the expanded view. The BTLA found neither party’s valuation entirely persuasive, determining the Hayes Appraisal understated the property’s market value, and the Town’s assessment overstated it. Consequently, the BTLA concluded that Porobic had carried her burden to demonstrate that the property was assessed at a higher percentage of fair market value than the general level of assessment in the Town, and that, as such, she was paying more than her proportional share of taxes. The BTLA granted Porobic’s request for an abatement, and reduced the property’s 2018 assessed value to $345,400. Porobic appealed the new valuation, but the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error in the BTLA's decision and affirmed it. View "Appeal of Eleonora Porobic" on Justia Law
Appeal of City of Berlin
Petitioner City of Berlin (City) appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) order determining that the City over-assessed respondent Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH), for tax year 2017. The City challenged the BTLA’s decision to apply the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) 2017 median equalization ratio to determine the proportionality of the City’s assessment of PSNH’s J. Brodie Smith hydroelectric facility (Smith Hydro). It argued the 2016 median equalization ratio — the most recent DRA ratio available at the time the City prepared the 2017 tax assessment — should have applied. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed, it reversed and remanded. View "Appeal of City of Berlin" on Justia Law
Merrimack Premium Outlets, LLC et al. v. Town of Merrimack
Plaintiffs Merrimack Premium Outlets, LLC and Merrimack Premium Outlets Center, LLC, appealed, and defendant Town of Merrimack (Town), cross-appealed superior court orders in an action challenging the Town’s reassessment of taxable property. Merrimack Premium Outlets, LLC owned a large property in Merrimack (the Property) that it leased to Merrimack Premium Outlets Center, LLC. The latter entity operated a retail outlet shopping mall, known as the Merrimack Premium Outlets, on the Property. In 2016, the Town conducted a revaluation of all taxable property within the municipality. As a result, the Property was assessed at $86,549,400. Later that year, the Town became aware that the Property had been used in or about 2013 as collateral for a loan and had been valued for that purpose at $220,000,000. Based on this information, the Town believed that it had severely undervalued the Property. Accordingly, the Town reassessed the Property for the 2017 tax year at $154,149,500 (the 2017 reassessment). Plaintiffs then brought this action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, alleging there were no changes in either the Property or the market that justified the 2017 reassessment. The superior court ruled in favor of the Town. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in ruling that the Town had the authority to correct its undervaluation of the Property by adjusting its assessment pursuant to RSA 75:8. Given this disposition, the Court did not address the parties' remaining arguments. View "Merrimack Premium Outlets, LLC et al. v. Town of Merrimack" on Justia Law
Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust, et al.
Eighteen petitioners (the Taxpayers) appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) order issued following the New Hampshire Supreme Court's decision in Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust, 173 N.H. 362 (2020). In that decision, the Supreme Court vacated the BTLA’s prior dismissal of the Taxpayers’ property tax abatement appeals and remanded for the BTLA to further consider whether the Taxpayers omitted their personal signatures and certifications on their tax abatement applications to respondent Town of Bartlett (Town), “due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” On remand, the BTLA found that “based on the facts presented, the Taxpayers [had] not met their burden of proving the omission of their signatures and certifications was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect,” and again dismissed their appeals. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust, et al." on Justia Law
Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. v. Town of Windham
Defendant Town of Windham (Town) appealed a superior court order denying its motion to dismiss the tax abatement appeal of plaintiff Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. (Shaw’s), for lack of standing. The Town also appealed the superior court's order granting Shaw’s requested tax abatement. The owner of the property at issue leased 1.5 acres of a 34.21-acre parcel in Windham established as Current Use. The lease, in relevant part, required Shaw’s to pay the Owner its pro rata share of the real estate taxes assessed on the entire parcel, and the Owner was required to pay the taxes to the Town. If the Owner received a tax abatement, Shaw’s was entitled to its pro rata share of the abatement. In 2017, Shaw’s was directed by the Owner to pay the property taxes directly to the Town, and it did. Shaw’s unsuccessfully applied to the Town’s selectboard for a tax abatement and subsequently appealed to the superior court. The Town moved to dismiss, arguing that Shaw’s lacked standing to request a tax abatement on property it did not own. Finding the superior court did not err in finding Shaw's had standing to seek the abatement, or err in granting the abatement, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's orders. View "Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. v. Town of Windham" on Justia Law
Appeal of Town of Chester et al.
Petitioners, the Towns of Chester and Hudson (collectively, Towns), appealed a Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) order granting respondent Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH) abatements of taxes assessed against its property located in Chester for tax years 2014 and 2016 and in Hudson for tax years 2014, 2015, and 2016. PSNH submitted an appraisal report prepared by its expert, Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., setting forth the expert’s opinion of the aggregate fair market value of PSNH’s taxable property located in each municipality for each tax year. Two appraisers employed by the Towns’ expert, George E. Sansoucy, P.E., LLC (GES), used a substantially similar methodology in appraising the fair market value of the land interests. The BTLA compared the equalized market value to the aggregate assessed value for each municipality for each tax year. The BTLA concluded that an assessment was unreasonable and granted an abatement when it determined that the difference between the equalized market value and the aggregate assessed value was greater than five percent. The Towns argued that because both GES and Concentric relied upon the assessed value of PSNH’s land interests in reaching their opinions of fair market value, the values that the BTLA incorporated into its analysis “were already proportionate” and “should not have had the equalization ratio[s] applied to them.” The BTLA denied the Towns’ motion for reconsideration, noting that it based its calculations upon values that “were supplied by the [Towns] themselves in the stipulations agreed to by them” and adopting the arguments PSNH raised in its objection. Finding no reversible error in the BTLA's order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Town of Chester et al." on Justia Law
Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications – NNE v. Town of Acworth
This appeal arose from a consolidated cases filed by plaintiff Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications-NNE (FairPoint), against several New Hampshire towns and cities, asserting claims of ultra vires taxation and disproportionate taxation. As “representative municipalities” in the “test cases” established for this litigation, defendants, the Town of Durham and the Town of Hanover (Towns), appealed two superior court orders challenging: (1) the grant of summary judgment on the ultra vires ruling because they contended the agreements authorizing such use or occupation did not satisfy the requirements of RSA 72:23, I(b) (2012) (amended 2017, 2018, 2020); and (2) the superior court’s decision after trial, arguing that the court committed several errors in concluding that FairPoint was entitled to abatements of its tax assessments from the Town of Durham and the Town of Hanover for tax years 2013 and 2011 respectively. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Towns that the superior court erred with respect to the tax on the value of FairPoint's use or occupation of municipal rights-of-way was ultra vires. FairPoint’s use or occupation of municipal rights-of-way was not pursuant to a perpetual lease that gave rise to an independently taxable property interest; FairPoint met its burden to prove it was taxed disproportionately by the Towns. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part and consequently abating the two tax assessments at issue. View "Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications - NNE v. Town of Acworth" on Justia Law
Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust et al.
Eighteen petitioners appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision to dismiss their respective appeals of denials of applications for abatements of real estate taxes issued by respondent Town of Bartlett. he BTLA dismissed the appeals because the petitioners’ abatement applications failed to comply with the signature and certification requirement of New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Tax 203.02, and because the BTLA found that the petitioners did not demonstrate that these failures were “due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” There was no dispute in this case that petitioners did not personally sign or certify their abatement applications. Instead, petitioners contested the BTLA’s ruling that they did not demonstrate that the lack of signatures and certifications was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect. "Although the question of whether reasonable cause or willful neglect exists in a particular case is one of fact for the BTLA, the questions of what elements constitute reasonable cause or willful neglect under Tax 203.02 are ones of law." Because the BTLA did not have the benefit of the construction of Tax 203.02(d) that the New Hampshire announced in its opinion of this case, BTLA's decisions were vacated, and each matter remanded for further consideration. View "Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust et al." on Justia Law
Ventas Realty Limited Partnership v. City of Dover
Plaintiff Ventas Realty Limited Partnership (Ventas), appealed a superior court order denying its request for an abatement of the real estate taxes it paid defendant City of Dover (City), for the 2014 tax year. The subject real estate consists of a 5.15-acre site containing a skilled nursing facility serving both short-term and long-term patients, two garages, and a parking lot. At issue was the City’s April 1, 2014 assessment of the real estate at a value of $4,308,500. Ventas alleged that it timely applied to the City for an abatement of its 2014 taxes. The City presumably denied or failed to act upon the request, and Ventas, thereafter, petitioned the superior court for an abatement pursuant to RSA 76:17 (Supp. 2018), alleging that the City had unlawfully taxed the property in excess of its fair market value. Expert witnesses for both sides opined the property’s highest and best use was as a skilled nursing facility. The experts also agreed that the most reliable method for determining the property’s fair market value was the income capitalization method, although the City’s expert also completed analyses under the sales comparison and cost approaches. Both experts examined the same comparable properties and they also used similar definitions of “fair market value.” The main difference between the approaches of the two experts is that the City's expert used both market projections and the property’s actual income and expenses from 2012, 2013, and 2014 to forecast the property’s future net income, while Ventas' expert did not. Ventas' expert used the property’s actual income and expenses for the 11 months before the April 1, 2014 valuation date, without any market-based adjustments. Despite their different approaches, the experts gave similar estimates of the property’s projected gross income for tax year 2014. The experts differed greatly in their estimates of the property’s projected gross operating expenses for tax year 2014. All of Ventas’ arguments faulted the trial court for finding the City's expert's valuations more credible than its own expert's valuations. The New Hampshire found the trial court made numerous, specific findings which were supported by the record as to why it rejected Ventas' expert's appraisal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s determination that Ventas' expert's appraisal failed to meet Ventas’ burden of proof. View "Ventas Realty Limited Partnership v. City of Dover" on Justia Law
Appeal of Town of Belmont
The Town of Belmont appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision that, pursuant to RSA 72:36-a (2012) respondent Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for a homestead in Belmont. RSA 72:36-a provided that a person who met certain qualifications set forth in the statute, and “who owns a specially adapted homestead which has been acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration,” qualified for a property tax exemption. Louis Nordle served during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1969. In 1998, Louis and his wife, Robin Nordle, purchased a summer camp in Belmont. In 2007, the Nordles demolished the original home and built a new home. The house was later transferred to the Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust, in which Louis had a life estate in the trust and Robin was the trustee. In 2015, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs determined that Louis was totally and permanently disabled due to his service-connected disabilities. In 2016, Louis received a “Specially Adapted Housing Grant” from the Veterans Administration (VA), and used the funds to modify his home to accommodate his disability. The town originally denied Nordle's application for tax-exempt status, determining that the “home was not ‘acquired’ or ‘purchased’ by or with the assistance of a VA loan.” In making its determination, the town relied upon advice from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue that, in order to be entitled to the property tax exemption, the VA “had to help ‘purchase’ the home not adapt it.” The BTLA reasoned that “the word ‘acquired’ in the statute had a plain meaning broader than simply ‘purchased,’” and that because Louis “obtained, and is now in possession of, a specially adapted homestead . . . only because of the financial assistance he received from the VA,” the taxpayer was entitled to the tax exemption set forth in RSA 72:36-a. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that once the remodeling was completed, the taxpayer owned a specially adapted homestead which was “acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration.” and affirmed the BTLA’s determination that the taxpayer was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for the homestead in Belmont. View "Appeal of Town of Belmont" on Justia Law