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Balmuth v. Dolce

Superior Court of Rhode Island

November 14, 2016

MICHAEL A. BALMUTH and JANET E. BALMUTH
v.
DAVID E. DOLCE, in his capacity as Assessor of Taxes for the Town of Portsmouth JOHN QUA and SUZANNE SCHUTTE
v.
DAVID E. DOLCE, in his capacity as Assessor of Taxes for the Town of Portsmouth WILLIAM S. ANTLE
v.
DAVID E. DOLCE, in his capacity as Assessor of Taxes for the Town of Portsmouth

         Newport County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Brian G. Bardorf, Esq. Mark B. Bardorf, Esq. Michael J. Richards, Esq.

          For Defendant: Donato A. D'Andrea, Esq. Kevin P. Gavin, Esq.

          DECISION

          STONE, J.

         Before this Court for trial and decision is a five-count consolidated tax appeal from decisions of the Portsmouth Tax Assessment Board of Review (the Board). The Plaintiffs, homeowners Michael A. and Janet E. Balmuth, John Qua and Suzanne Schutte, and William S. Antle (collectively, Plaintiffs), challenge the Town of Portsmouth's (the Town or Portsmouth) tax assessment on real properties during the Tax Years[1] 2009 and 2010. Plaintiffs challenge the valuations placed on their homes during those years and seek return of the moneys overpaid, plus costs and interest accrued. The individual Complaints have been consolidated; and, in lieu of a non-jury trial, the parties have executed an Agreed Statement of Facts and submitted individual memoranda of law. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 44-5-26. For the reasoning set forth herein, judgment shall enter for the Plaintiffs.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The following facts have been stipulated to by the parties. Plaintiffs Michael A. Balmuth and Janet E. Balmuth, as of December 31, 2007 and through Portsmouth's Tax Year 2010, were the owners of a certain condominium unit designated as Unit No. 9 in Carnegie Harbor Residence Condominium, located at 294 Carnegie Harbor Drive, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which is identified as Lot 2A-9 on Portsmouth Tax Assessor's Plat 26 (the Balmuth Property). Plaintiff William S. Antle, as of December 31, 2007 and through Portsmouth's Tax Year 2010, was the owner of a certain condominium designated as Unit 11 in Carnegie Harbor Residence Condominium, located at 271 Carnegie Harbor Drive, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which is identified as Lot 2A-11 on Portsmouth Tax Assessor's Plat 26 (the Antle Property). Plaintiffs John Qua and Suzanne Schutte, on December 31, 2007 and through Portsmouth's Tax Year 2010, were the owners of a certain condominium unit designated as Unit No. 5 in the Carnegie Harbor Residence Condominium, located at 264 Carnegie Harbor Drive, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which is identified as Lot 2A-5 on Portsmouth Tax Assessor's Plat 26 (the Qua Property).

         Defendant David E. Dolce (Defendant), the Tax Assessor of the Town of Portsmouth, conducted an updated valuation of all parcels of real estate located in Portsmouth-the assessment included those properties owned by Plaintiffs (collectively, the Plaintiffs' Properties)-as of December 31, 2007, pursuant to § 44-5-11.6. Defendant determined that the fair market value (FMV) of each property, as of December 31, 2007, was as follows:

12/31/2007 FMV
The Balmuth Property:
$4, 430, 200.00
The Antle Property:
$4, 076, 500.00
The Qua Property:
$5, 320, 800.00

         The parties agree that the December 31, 2007 valuations were full and fair, and that for the Tax Year 2008 Plaintiffs were not overassessed. [2] For the Tax Years 2009 and 2010, Defendant did not reevaluate Plaintiffs' Properties. Instead, Defendant carried forward the values calculated on December 31, 2007, and Plaintiffs were assessed property taxes for the Tax Years 2009 and 2010 pursuant to the Tax Year 2008 property valuations-the December 31, 2007 fair market values. The parties agree that had Defendant reevaluated the Plaintiffs' Properties on December 31, 2008 and December 31, 2009, the fair market values for each year would have been as follows:

12/31/2008 FMV
12/31/2009 FMV
The Balmuth Property:
$4, 107, 333.00
N/A[3]
The Antle Property:
$3, 668, 850.00
$3, 261, 200.00
The Qua Property:
$4, 788, 720.00
$4, 256, 640.00

         Nevertheless, Plaintiffs paid, in a timely manner, property taxes due for the Tax Years 2009 and 2010 as follows:

Tax Year 2009[4]
Tax Year 2010[5]
The Balmuth Property:
$49, 906.20
N/A
The Antle Property:
$45, 921.77
$46, 068.53
The Qua Property:
$59, 938.81
$60, 130.36

         The assessments in the Tax Years 2009 and 2010 were a function of the December 31, 2007 fair market values that Defendant carried forward and the applicable tax rate for each year, 1.1265% and 1.1301%, respectively.

         Believing the property taxes paid in Tax Years 2009 and 2010 were based on valuations that exceeded fair market value, and pursuant to their statutory right of appeal under § 44-5-26, Plaintiffs appealed the assessments to Defendant.[6] Defendant denied Plaintiffs' appeals on the grounds that the December 31, 2007 valuations were accurate at the time and thus properly carried forward to December 31, 2008 and December 31, 2009 for use in the Tax Years 2009 and 2010, respectively. Plaintiffs then appealed Defendant's decision to the Board, which concurred with Defendant and denied Plaintiffs' appeals on the same grounds.

         Plaintiffs appealed the Board's decision to the Superior Court pursuant to § 44-5-26. All five matters were consolidated and heard before this Court without the intervention of a jury. The parties ...


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