PRINCETON: Judge once again refuses to dismiss property tax lawsuit against university

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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
A New Jersey tax court judge on Friday rejected a request by Princeton University to dismiss three citizens’ lawsuits challenging its property tax exemption.
Judge Vito L. Bianco had turned down two prior attempts by the school to get the case thrown out, part of a string legal rulings that he has made against Princeton, said Bruce I. Afran, the lawyer for the four residents suing.
The school based its argument this time on legal technicalities, including among other things the case should be heard before the Mercer County Tax Board, not the New Jersey Tax Court.
Mr. Afran said Wednesday that it was a “last ditch” attempt by Nassau Hall to get the lawsuits thrown out. He said after the ruling, the school’s lawyers in court Friday again expressed interest in meeting to discuss a “potential settlement.”
A settlement could involve the school agreeing to put certain buildings on the tax rolls, he said. Another possibility is for Nassau Hall to agree to make larger financial payments to the municipality and keep its tax-exempt status, he said.
Mr. Afran said Marin Allen, the attorney representing the municipality in the case, offered to “work with the parties in an attempt to reach a settlement.” The town, though technically a defendant in the case, is remaining neutral.
In the meantime, the case is scheduled to go on trial before the same judge in October 2016.
For its part, Princeton on Tuesday issued a statement seeking to find a silver lining in last week’s outcome.
“While the judge refused to dismiss the complaints, he did order the plaintiffs to file, within 30 days, a list of the specific properties that are challenged,” the statement read. “As the University pointed out in its motion, the law requires plaintiffs to identify specific properties. This is essential for trial preparation, and we appreciate the judge’s order that plaintiffs provide a specific listing.”
“Another important purpose of the University’s motion,” the statement said, “was achieved when the court ordered the plaintiffs to amend their submissions to remove any reference to the 2013 tax year being under appeal, which it is not.”
But Mr. Afran said when the judge asked for that list of properties, it had nothing to do with the merits of the case but rather had to do with an administrative bookkeeping matter related to court filing fees.

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