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Henderson Holdings At Sugar Hill, LLC v. Town of Sugar Hill

July 31, 2012

HENDERSON HOLDINGS AT SUGAR HILL, LLC
v.
TOWN OF SUGAR HILL



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hicks, J.

a.m. on the morning of their release. The direct address of the court's home page is: http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme.

Grafton

Submitted: June 7, 2012

This is an interlocutory appeal from an order of the Superior Court (Vaughan, J.) denying a motion to dismiss filed by the Town of Sugar Hill (Town). See Sup. Ct. R. 8. The superior court transferred the following question for our review:

Whether RSA 76:16 requires all landowners to sign and certify their applications for abatement, in whichever form such applications take, that they have a "good faith basis and the facts in the application are true" before they may appeal any assessment decision of a municipality to the superior court or to the BTLA [Board of Tax and Land Appeals], especially when the facts show a knowing and purposeful choice not to sign said application?

We conclude that, although the Town lawfully denied the petitioner's application based upon its lack of signature and certification, the superior court may nevertheless review the Town's denial to determine whether review by the Town on the merits is appropriate in the circumstances. Accordingly, we remand.

I

We accept the statement of the case and facts as presented in the interlocutory appeal statement and rely upon the record for additional facts as necessary. See State v. Hess Corp., 159 N.H. 256, 258 (2009). In January 2009, the petitioner, Henderson Holdings at Sugar Hill, LLC, through its non- attorney representative, Mark Lutter, doing business as Northeast Property-Tax Consultants, see RSA 71-B:7-a (Supp. 2011), applied to the Town for abatement of its 2008 real estate taxes, using the form provided by the BTLA for that purpose. Section H of the form instructed the petitioner to sign the application and certify that it has a good faith basis and is based upon truthful information. Additionally, section I required the petitioner's representative to certify that the petitioner had signed section H. The petitioner, however, did not sign the form. Instead, Lutter wrote on the signature line "see agent form" and attached an agent authorization form signed by the petitioner. On this form, the petitioner authorized Lutter to act for it and sign municipality abatement and BTLA forms on its behalf. However, the agent authorization form did not include a certification by the petitioner that the information Lutter submitted on its behalf was true.

The Town did not respond to the application, which constitutes denial under RSA 76:16, II (2003). The petitioner then appealed to the superior court pursuant to RSA 76:17 (2003), and the Town moved to dismiss. The litigation was stayed pending this court's resolution of Appeal of Wilson, 161 N.H. 659 (2011). After Wilson was decided, the superior court lifted the stay and denied the Town's motion on the grounds that the petitioner's failure to sign and certify the application did not require dismissal. This interlocutory appeal followed.

II

The Town argues that the superior court lacks jurisdiction to hear the petitioner's appeal because the petitioner neither signed nor certified its abatement application to the selectmen. However, whether the Town permissibly denied the application based upon the petitioner's failure to provide the information required by RSA 76:16, III is not a jurisdictional issue. Cf. Rainville v. Lakes Region Water Co., 163 N.H. 271, 275 (2012) (noting that the plain meaning of the term jurisdiction is "the legal power, right, or authority to hear and determine a cause, legal power to interpret and administer the law, or [the] power or right to exercise authority: CONTROL" (quotations omitted)). To the contrary, this question concerns only what the statute requires of applicants in the first instance before the selectmen or assessors, not the terms by which an appeal may be heard and decided. Cf. Phetteplace v. Town of Lyme, 144 N.H. 621, 625 (2000) (holding that compliance with procedural deadline for filing appeal is a "necessary prerequisite" to establishing jurisdiction in the appellate body); Appeal of Town of Sunapee, 126 N.H. 214, 216 (1985) (holding that BTLA lacked jurisdiction to order abatement on one parcel where property owner applied only for abatement on a different parcel).

III

The Town's main argument on appeal is that the trial court erroneously denied its motion to dismiss. The Town contends that it properly denied the petitioner's tax abatement application because the petitioner did not comply with the signature and certification requirements in RSA 76:16, III(g) as interpreted in Wilson.

Because resolution of this issue requires statutory interpretation, which is a matter of law, we review the trial court's decision de novo. Magoon v. Thoroughgood, 148 N.H. 139, 142 (2002). In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiters of legislative intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. In the Matter of Watterworth & Watterworth, 149 N.H. 442, 445 (2003). We first examine the language of the statute and ascribe the plain and ordinary meanings to the words used. Id. Furthermore, we interpret statutes in the context of the overall statutory scheme and not in isolation. Id. (quotation omitted). "Our goal is to apply statutes in light of the ...


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