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Athena Providence Place v. Quinn

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

April 25, 2019

Athena Providence Place, et al., Petitioners,
v.
David Quinn, in his capacity as Tax Assessor of the City of Providence, et al., Respondents.

          For Plaintiff: Michael T. Eskey, Esq.

          For Defendant: Lisa Fries, Esq. Jillian H. Barker, Esq. Samuel A. Budway, Esq.

          DECISION

          LICHT, J.

         Petitioners are taxpayer unit owners of Athena Providence Place (collectively referred to as Petitioners), a residential condominium development located at 903 Providence Place in Providence, Rhode Island (the Property or The 903).[1] Petitioners filed a Petition for Relief from Assessment claiming that David Quinn (Assessor or Quinn), in his capacity as Tax Assessor of the City of Providence, illegally increased their assessed values for the assessment dates December 31, 2013 (Tax Year 2014) and December 31, 2014 (Tax Year 2015). The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 44-5-26 and makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 52 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I Facts and Travel[2]

         The 903 is a developed property located at 903 Providence Place in Providence, Rhode Island. The Property consists of 330 dwelling units and associated parking and storage spaces. For ten years immediately prior to the Tax Year 2014, the Property was subject to an amended tax stabilization agreement (TSA), which included assessed values of the Property for the ten years beginning with the assessment date as of December 31, 2003 (for Tax Year 2004) and ending with the assessment date as of December 31, 2013 (for Tax Year 2014). See Walter Pastor Aff. (Pastor Aff.) Ex. 1.

         In 2012, prior to the expiration of the TSA, the City of Providence (the City), in conjunction with Vision Government Solutions, Inc. (Vision), a mass appraisal contractor, performed and completed a citywide reassessment update program of property values (2012 Revaluation).[3] The 2012 Revaluation determined the assessed values as of December 31, 2012, for the Tax Year 2013, for all real estate in the City including each of the Property's 330 dwelling units, notwithstanding that the TSA provided for an agreed assessment and stabilized payments for the Property through the Tax Year 2013.

         In April of 2013, as part of the 2012 Revaluation process, the Assessor individually notified each of the Property's taxpayer-owners by letter (April 5, 2013 Notice) of the City's new citywide revaluation assessments of their units and that the 2012 Revaluation represented 100% of the fair market value for their units as of December 31, 2012. (Pastor Aff. Ex. 2.) The City also informed Petitioners that Vision would be conducting informal appeal hearings to review the new citywide revaluation assessments with taxpayers who wished to challenge them. Walter Pastor (Pastor), the manager of the Property, attended such a hearing with Vision and contended that the new assessments were too high. After that hearing, the City's Assessor sent each of the Property's taxpayer-owners a second notice (June 14, 2013 Notice) affirming the 2012 Revaluation without change. The April 5, 2013 Notice and the June 14, 2013 Notice were the only notices of reassessment the City provided to the Property's taxpayer-owners for the 2013, 2014 and 2015 tax years. Even though the 2012 Revaluation set new values for the Property, the City taxed the Property for the Tax Year 2013 based on the TSA.

         However, following the expiration of the TSA and prior to the issuance of the Property's 2014and 2015 tax bills, the City revalued and reassessed each of the Property's 330 dwelling units (2013 Revaluation). As a result of and following the 2013 Revaluation, the Assessor issued property tax bills in June of 2014 (2014 Tax Bill) and in June of 2015 (2015 Tax Bill) based upon the values in the 2013 Revaluation, not the 2012 Revaluation. As applied to their 2014 Tax Bill and 2015 Tax Bill, the 2013 Revaluation's assessed values of the Property's 330 units were approximately thirty percent higher than the 2012 Revaluation.

         The parties have stipulated that Petitioners, for the Tax Year 2014 and the Tax Year 2015, complied with the statutes that require filing an Annual Return or account, paying the taxes and exhausting all administrative remedies. For the Tax Year 2014, Petitioners filed suit on December 18, 2015, in Providence County Superior Court and did the same for the Tax Year 2015on February 18, 2016. Following a period of discovery, on November 29, 2017, Petitioners filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. In response, Respondents filed an Objection to Petitioners' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and a Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. On January 25, 2018, the Court heard and denied all motions. Subsequently, the parties agreed to submit the matter to the Court for a decision on the merits based upon stipulated facts, written submissions, affidavits and depositions. A summary of the evidence presented to the Court follows.

         II Presentation of Witnesses

         The Court has reviewed the affidavits and associated exhibits of Pastor and Janesse Muscatelli, the Acting Tax Assessor for the City. Additionally, the Court reviewed the depositions of David Quinn; Elyse Pare, the former deputy assessor for the City between December 2011 to January of 2015; and Stephen Ferreira of Vision. The Court will briefly summarize the salient points of their testimony.

         A Walter Pastor

         Since 2011, Pastor has been responsible for managing the business aspects of the Property. In 2013, Pastor was promoted to manager of the Property and as such, was informed of the assessed values, notices of assessment and property taxes for each unit of the Property. After reviewing the proposed assessed values in the 2012 Revaluation, which he believed would be used for the Tax Year 2014 and the Tax Year 2015, Pastor requested, on behalf of the Property's taxpayer-owners, an informal hearing with Vision to review and challenge the new assessments as excessive. At the hearing, Pastor provided evidence to Vision and the City that the proposed assessed values in the 2012 Revaluation were excessive. The hearing was to no avail, and the 2012 Revaluation assessments were reconfirmed in the June 14, 2013 Notice. Pastor further stated that he received no notice of the 2013 Revaluation until the bills for the Tax Year 2014 were sent to the unit owners.

         B David Quinn

         Quinn served as the Tax Assessor of the City from 2012 to 2017. Quinn testified that as part of the 2012 Revaluation, the City engaged Vision and confirmed that The 903 was revalued as part of the 2012 Revaluation. (Quinn Dep. 7:4-12, Apr. 11, 2017.) He testified generally as to how ...


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