In this case the Supreme Court concluded that the statutory tax abatement scheme is written to be free from technical and formal obstructions and thus, an applicant is only required to give a brief explanation of reasons for requesting an abatement in order to be entitled to consideration of its application.
Steeplegate, owner of a shopping mall located in Concord, filed a petition for abatement of taxes upon receipt of the city’s tax assessment that utilized the cost approach in appraising the value of the subject property. Steeplegate used the Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) form to apply for the abatement. One portion of the form instructs the applicant to explain the reason(s) it is entitled to abatement. Steeplegate explained that the “income approach analysis does not support current assessment.” The city, upon reviewing the application, first “defaulted” the application alleging that it lacked sufficient specificity to support the assertion that the assessment was excessive. When Steeplegate, after notice of this decision, did not amend the application the city ultimately denied the application on the same ground. Steeplegate appealed this decision to the superior court where the city argued that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal since the assessors had not neglect[ed] or refuse[d] to abate” the assessment and such a decision is a statutory prerequisite to judicial review. The superior court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction and the matter was appealed to the Supreme Court.
On appeal Steeplegate argued that its reason articulated in the request for abatement and the city’s response was sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of the superior court. The city maintained that the assessor’s decision did not constitute a denial of Steeplegate’s application and thus, the superior court properly ruled that it did not have jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court considered RSA 76:16, which provides generally that any person aggrieved by an assessment may apply in writing for abatement, that the selectmen or assessors may abate for good cause and that failure to use the prescribed BTLA form shall not affect the right to seek tax relief. The Court cited its earlier opinion in Arlington Mills v. Salem, 83 N.H. 148 (1927) to emphasize that the procedure for tax abatement is set out in a remedial statutory scheme and should be construed liberally as to make the application process free from technical and formal obstructions. The Court concluded that the selectmen or assessors may not deny an application solely because the taxpayer failed to provide a detailed explanation of reasons for the application. It concluded that a brief explanation of reasons is all that is required and that, in this case, the city’s denial of the application was tantamount to denial for the request for abatement. Consequently, the Court rejected the city’s jurisdiction argument since it found that the applicant’s request had, in fact, been denied, thus entitling the applicant to review by the superior court.