Sibley v. Town of Middlefield

Decision Date03 January 1956
Citation143 Conn. 100,120 A.2d 77
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesJohn D. SIBLEY et al. v. TOWN OF MIDDLEFIELD. Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

Richard C. Parmelee and John F. Pickett, Jr., Middletown, with whom, on the brief, was Aaron J. Palmer, Middletown, for appellant (defendant).

Bernard A. Kosicki, Middletown, for appellees (plaintiffs).


O'SULLIVAN, Associate Justice.

This litigation came to the Court of Common Pleas as an appeal from the refusal of the board of tax review of the defendant town to reduce assessments on lands and structures either owned by the named plaintiff individually or in his charge as executor of the will of his deceased mother. The court reduced the assessments, and the defendant has appealed.

The finding, which is not subject to any correction of advantage to the defendant, recites the following facts: The defendant in 1952 had a population of approximately 2200. Prior to October 1, 1952, it hired a firm of appraisers to help the board of assessors make one of the periodic revaluations required by law. General Statutes, Sup. 1949, § 183a, as amended, Cum.Sup.1953, § 847c. Every assessment then made for the year was uniformly fixed at 50 per cent of the fair market value of the property as that value was determined by the assessors. The result of the revaluation, effective on October 1, 1952, was to double, on the average, all prior assessments and to increase the grand list, as had been the defendant's purpose, from $2,750,000 to $4,750,000.

On October 1, 1952, the plaintiff, in his individual capacity owned certain realty located within the defendant's territorial limits, and, in his representative capacity for the estate of Jennie B. Sibley, deceased, was in charge of other realty similarly located. The plaintiff's own realty consisted of a residence, a garage and two lots containing 1.15 acres of land. The assessment thereon was increased from $10,000 to $22,560 for the list of October 1, 1952. The realty belonging to the estate consisted of five parcels of land with buildings and improvements thereon. The five parcels were of 3, 3, 9, 14 and 17.7 acres, respectively. The assessment upon the estate's realty was increased from $30,955 to $67,400. From this point on we shall, in the interest of succinctness, refer to all the properties as though they were owned solely by the plaintiff as an individual.

The realty is devoted principally to the business of operating a summer recreational center. The use of the various properties is limited to a period not longer than thirteen weeks, during six of which a maximum of 250 vacationists are accommodated. The recreational business is a highly personal one and its success is due more to good management than to the physical characteristics of the location. The business is owned and operated by a corporation of which the plaintiff is the president, principal stockholder and general manager. He is assisted by a large organization during the resort season.

The fair market values of the various taxable items, as determined by the assessors and later reduced by the board of tax review, are set forth in the footnote. 1 In reaching these figures, the assessors relied on a formula, prepared by the firm of appraisers, by which land was valued at a certain uniform rate per acre or front foot, depending upon its location, quality and actual use or potential possibilities. Pursuant to another formula obtained from the same source, the assessors valued all buildings on the basis of cost of reproduction less an allowance for depreciation and obsolescence. They also used other factors in determining the valuations to be placed on structures. One was a classification multiplier by which older houses were advanced one class higher than if they had been more recently erected. Another was a multiplier applicable to the estimated reproduction costs of structures as classified in six classes. For example, the application of the formula to the plaintiff's residence worked out as follows: The reproduction cost was found to be $49,440; this was raised to $70,092 by using the multiplier for the classification into which the assessors had put the residence; the last-named figure was then lowered to $35,549 by using an arbitrary deductible percentage to cover depreciation and obsolescence. The assessors did not apply a multiplier to the plaintiff's other structures, since they were considered, under the formula, as special-purpose buildings. In setting a value on them, the assessors were not influenced by the physical characteristics of the buildings but rather by the commercial use to which they were put.

Appeals were taken by the plaintiffs from the 1952 doings of the assessors to the defendant's board of tax review. That board lowered the assessment on the residence, exclusive of the land on which it stands, by $5000; it refused to grant further relief. As thus reduced, the assessment upon all the realty was fixed at a figure representing substantially 50 per cent of $166,885, the fair value of the properties as determined by the assessors and modified by the board of tax review. The fair value of the taxable items, as found by the court, was $80,650. 2 Other facts found by the court will be subsequently recited when we discuss one of the assignments of error.

The court performs a double function on an appeal from a board of tax review. First, it must determine the judicial question whether the appellant has been aggrieved by such action on the part of the board as will result in the payment of an unjust and, therefore, a practically illegal tax. Secondly, if that question § answered in the affirmative, the court must proceed to exercise its broad discretionary power to grant relief. Wilcox v. Town of Madison, 103 Conn. 149, 150, 130 A. 84; Ives v. Town of Goshen, 65 Conn. 456, 459, 32 A. 932. We have recently examined the nature of appeals from boards of tax review. In Connecticut Savings Bank of New Haven v. City of New Haven, 131 Conn. 575, 584, 41 A.2d 765, we said: 'The valuation of property for assessment purposes has been a vexed and much litigated problem * * *. The valuation is first fixed by the assessors. An appeal lies to the board of tax review. Both of these boards are usually elected bodies. A taxpayer who thinks he is aggrieved then has an appeal to the courts, where the matter is tried de novo. [General Statutes, § 1800]. The [statute] provide[s], in part, that 'The court shall have power to grant such relief as shall to justice and equity appertain,' and, if it finds that property has been in fact overvalued or disproportionately valued, it has power to, and should, correct the valuation.' This procedure was pursued in the case at bar and is now too firmly entrenched in our law to permit successful challenge as to its validity.

A claim strenuously urged by the defendant is that the court, by refusing to adopt the system employed by the assessors, erred in determining, through other means, the value of the plaintiff's realty. The point which the defendant attempts to make is, as stated in its brief, that the court's refusal violates 'the requirement that assessments shall be proportional and applied equally by the same method to all the properties in a town.' We know of no requirement that the value of all taxable property must be fixed 'by the same method.' Desirable as the use of a uniform system may appear to be, it does not follow that no other method than that prescribed by such a system may be utilized. The important thing is to determine what the statute describes as the 'present true and actual valuation' of the realty in question, since that valuation is the basis for taxation purposes. General Statutes, § 1738.

The expressions 'actual valuation,' 'actual value,' 'market value,' 'market price' and, we add, 'fair value' are synonymous. Sanford v. Peck, 63 Conn. 486, 493, 27 A. 1057. Usually, these expressions mean the figure fixed by sales in ordinary business transactions, and they are established when other property of the same kind in the same or a comparable location has been bought and sold in so many instances that a value may reasonably be inferred. Underwood Typewriter Co. v. City of Hartford, 99 Conn. 329, 334, 122 A. 91. In other words, the best test is ordinarily that of market sales. Campbell v. City of New Haven, 101 Conn. 173, 185, ...

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