Judge denies county’s motion for dismissal in lawsuit over reassessment

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A Nassau County Supreme Court judge has denied a motion by the county to dismiss a case that questions the county's tax reassessment. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

A Nassau County Supreme Court judge has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against Nassau County and its Department of Assessment over alleged flaws in the tax reassessment system, according to court filings.

The judge, Stephen A. Buscaria, denied the county’s motion for dismissal on Jan. 28.

Nassau County residents Eric Berliner, Robert Fine, Michael Aryeh and Jill Pesce individually and on behalf of all other homeowners directly affected by the reassessment filed a complaint over the 2018 tax reassessment against the county, the Department of Assessment, County Executive Laura Curran and County Assessor David Moog on April 30, 2019.

The four residents are represented by Herrick Feinstein LLP, a Manhattan law firm.

According to court filings, the plaintiffs alleged that the reassessment violated federal due process and equal protection clauses, and did not use accurate factors and market values.

As a result, the plaintiffs claimed that the reassessment yielded inaccurate results and could potentially lead to higher taxes for hundreds of thousands of county homeowners, according to Scott Mollen, an attorney representing the plaintiffs and a partner at Herrick Feinstein.

“The county made a motion to dismiss the entire case and the court has denied the county’s motion with respect to almost every one of our causes of action,” Mollen said. “The court also granted our motion to proceed as a class action.”

According to court filings, the county argued that “the plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the reassessment of residential real property in the county.”

Efforts to get comment from county officials were unavailing.

Curran called for the reassessment of approximately 400,000 homes in 2018 after the county’s assessment roll had been frozen since 2008.  During that period, thousands of residents filed grievances on the value of their homes, winning reduced assessments and shifting the tax burden onto others who did not challenge their assessments.

According to the plaintiffs, after the reassessment, one study found that 69 percent of the homes that sold in 2018 had an assessed value that differed by 5 percent or more from the time-adjusted sales price; another study found 84 percent of homes had a discrepancy of 5 percent or more.

Statistics released by Curran in May 2019 estimated that 55 percent of Nassau County homeowners would see a decrease in their property taxes due to the reassessment, exemptions and a proposed five-year phase-in.

The initial complaint claimed the county’s reassessment method “was performed in an extremely rushed manner, during an unreasonably short period of time, under a veil of secrecy, and with utilization of undisclosed software, modeling, algorithms, undisclosed protocols and the so-called ‘neighborhood factors.’”

The plaintiffs claim that the use of neighborhood factors was another means by which the market value could be manipulated, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, the neighborhood factor was designated as between 0.6 and 1.9 and was then used to either decrease or increase assessed values.

The lawsuit states that Nassau’s assessors improperly used comparative sales when conducting the assessment.

Moog said at a public hearing last year that the algorithm used by the county only provides a prediction of the home value, which is then verified through comparative sales.

He also said that any improperly calculated home values would be caught when comparable home values were reviewed, according to the lawsuit.

Mollen said “this relatively new system for Nassau had led to gross inequities that impacted many homeowners.” 

Mollen said that gross overassessments could severely damage the marketability of people’s homes. In one hypothetical example, Mollen said a home that has extremely high taxes would “plummet” in value.

An independent study of hundreds of homes found that “sales comparatives were not adjusting the modeling’s price up or down,” according to the lawsuit.

Mollen said the county is now obligated to produce its internal documents and witnesses for deposition. 

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