United Illuminating Co. v. City of New Haven

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation240 Conn. 422,692 A.2d 742
Decision Date22 April 1997
Docket NumberNo. 15462,15462

Page 742

692 A.2d 742
240 Conn. 422

No. 15462.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued Dec. 12, 1996.
Decided April 22, 1997.

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Harold B. Finn, III, with whom were Patrick J. McHugh, Donna Nelson Heller and, on the brief, James R. Hawkins, II, Stamford, and Michael Koenigsberg, New Haven, for appellants (defendants).

Mark R. Kravitz, New Haven, with whom were Patrick J. Monahan, II, Hartford, and, on the brief, John Barnett, New Haven, for appellee (plaintiff).

Janet C. Spegele, Middletown, Cynthia L. Amara and Stephen Ostrach, Boston, MA, filed a brief, for Connecticut Business and Industry Association as amicus curiae.

[240 Conn. 424] Mary-Michelle U. Hirschoff, Bethany, filed a brief, for Connecticut Conference of Municipalities as amicus curiae.

Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General, and Carolyn K. Querijero and Gregory T. D'Auria, Assistant Attorneys General, filed a brief, for office of policy and management as amicus curiae.


BORDEN, Associate Justice.

The principal issue of this appeal is whether a municipal tax assessor has the authority, pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 12-53, 1 to [240 Conn. 425] revalue and reassess

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personal property that, for purposes of the grand lists of three prior years, had been identified and valued on the list of personal property submitted by the taxpayer to the assessor and had been [240 Conn. 426] included at that value on the prior grand lists. The defendants, the city of New Haven, the New Haven tax collector and the New Haven tax assessor, appeal 2 from the partial summary judgment rendered by the trial court in favor of the plaintiff, United Illuminating Company. 3 The defendants claim that the trial

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court misconstrued[240 Conn. 427] § 12-53, and that the assessor has the authority under that statute to revalue property after giving notice of an audit within three years of the filing of the taxpayer's list. As an alternate ground to affirm the trial court's judgment, the plaintiff claims that the notice given to it under § 12-53(c) was insufficient, and that it did not waive any such deficiency in the notice. We agree with the defendants with respect to their claim, and we disagree with the plaintiff's alternate ground for affirmance. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for trial on the third and fourth counts of the complaint.

The parties stipulated to the following facts. On or about November 1, 1990, the plaintiff, a public service company supplying electric power to New Haven and Fairfield counties, filed with the New Haven tax assessor a list of personal property showing a valuation for assessment purposes of its personal property, other than motor vehicles, of $92,079,800. The assessor included all of this listed property on the grand list for October 1, 1990, at the submitted value and, in February, 1991, lodged the October 1, 1990 grand list in the town clerk's office as required by General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 12-55. 4 The New Haven tax collector rendered [240 Conn. 428] bills to the plaintiff for that grand list on the basis of the values set forth on the plaintiff's list of personal property, and the plaintiff paid those bills in full.

In a letter dated September 20, 1993, the assessor notified the plaintiff that he was

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scheduling a hearing pursuant to § 12-53(b). The hearing took place on September 29, 1993, at which various persons testified. In a letter dated October 12, 1993, the assessor notified the plaintiff that the hearing was concluded. On or about October 31, 1993, the plaintiff received three tax bills and accompanying letters from the tax collector. These tax bills set forth a total of $6,315,614.96 claimed to be [240 Conn. 429] due for the October 1, 1990 grand list, and were based on an increase in the value of the plaintiff's personal property from the values that had been declared by the plaintiff and included by the assessor on that grand list. The increase in valuation resulted in an increase in the assessment, after application of a 70 percent equalization factor, of the plaintiff's personal property from $92,079,800 to $143,416,860. The plaintiff received no written communication from the defendants in the thirty days following October 12, 1993, other than the three tax bills and accompanying letters of October 31, 1993.

Thereafter, the plaintiff appeared before the New Haven board of tax review and requested that the tax bills be declared illegal. The board of tax review denied this relief. The plaintiff brought this action by amended complaint, pursuant to General Statutes § 12-119 5 seeking: (1) a declaratory judgment that the taxes sought [240 Conn. 430] to be collected were illegal; 6 and (2) temporary and permanent injunctive relief against the collection of those taxes. The defendants filed a counterclaim for collection of the taxes at issue.

The parties filed cross motions for partial summary judgment on the first two counts of the complaint and the counterclaim. The trial court concluded that the assessor lacked authority under § 12-53 to increase the assessment of the plaintiff's personal property on the October 1, 1990 grand list. The trial court determined, however, that with respect to the plaintiff's alternate claim that the increased assessment was illegal because the assessor had failed to provide written notice to the plaintiff of the increased assessment within thirty days of the hearing as required by § 12-53(c), the plaintiff had waived any defect in the notice by appealing to the board of tax review. Nonetheless, because the plaintiff had established one of its two contentions the trial court granted the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, 7 and

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denied the defendants' motion. Upon [240 Conn. 431] certification by the trial court that the delay incident to an appeal was justified; see footnote 3; this appeal followed.

The defendants claim that the trial court's interpretation of § 12-53 was improper. More specifically, the defendants claim that the assessor's authority under § 12-53(b) to conduct an audit regarding the valuation of the taxpayer's property within three years after the filing of the taxpayer's list of personal property necessarily carries with it the implied power to revalue that property for tax purposes, and that this implied power is specifically referred to in § 12-53(c). The plaintiff contends, to the contrary, that the trial court properly interpreted § 12-53, that the assessor's only authority under § 12-53 is to add omitted property, and that the assessor's authority to revalue listed property instead must be exercised pursuant to § 12-55. We agree with the defendants.

The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature. Frillici v. Westport, 231 Conn. 418, 431, 650 A.2d 557 (1994). In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of this case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply. In seeking to determine that meaning, "we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id.; Carpenteri-Waddington, Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue Services,[240 Conn. 432] 231 Conn. 355, 362, 650 A.2d 147 (1994); United Illuminating Co. v. Groppo, 220 Conn. 749, 755-56, 601 A.2d 1005 (1992). Based on the language of § 12-53, its legislative history and the circumstances surrounding its enactment, the policy it was designed to implement, and its relationship to other legislation governing the same subject matter, we conclude that an assessor has the authority under § 12-53(b) and (c) to revalue and reassess, for tax purposes, property that was listed and valued on a grand list filed within the previous three years.

Section 12-53 is part of the general statutory scheme for the taxation of personal property by municipalities. In general terms, under General Statutes § 12-40, 8 taxpayers are required to file lists "of the taxable property belonging to them on the first day of October in that year." Under General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 12-42, 9 [240 Conn. 433] each taxpayer

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must file its list with the assessor by November 1 and, under General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 12-49, 10 must declare under penalties of false statement that the list "is a true statement of all my property liable to taxation." Under § 12-55, 11 the assessor, upon receipt of the lists, after making any adjustments permitted by that section, is required, by the following January 31, to: (1) arrange the lists in alphabetical order; (2) lodge them either in the assessor's office or the town clerk's office for public inspection; and (3) make "an abstract" of the lists and lodge this "grand list abstract" in the town clerk's office for public inspection. This "grand list abstract" is what is known as the grand list for October 1 of the particular year. Thus, under § 12-55, the assessor has a ninety day window of time--from November 1 through the following January 31--within which to revalue personal property before including it in the grand list for that taxable year. Under General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 12-63, 12 the assessor [240 Conn. 434] is required to value the property for tax purposes at its "fair market value."

This system rests on two fundamental premises. First, it is, in the first instance, a self-reporting system. "It is well settled that it is the responsibility of the taxpayer to provide the assessor with sufficient facts to value personal property...

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