Denial of Veteran’s Tax Exemption Upheld on Appeal

by: Anthony F. Della Pelle
19 Jul 2017

On or about March 21,  2016, the Tax Court issued a ruling in Fisher v. Millville which addressed a taxpayer’s application for disabled veteran’s property tax exemption pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30.  The issue in the case was whether plaintiff’s disability satisfied the statutory criteria for a veteran’s property tax exemption.  The Tax Court denied plaintiff’s application for an exemption because plaintiff’s disability did not result from direct support of a specified military conflict as required under the statute.  Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Appellate Division but the decision was ultimately affirmed.

Plaintiff’s injuries were the result of a fall from two-stories during training exercise in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in 2002.  The injuries did not preclude plaintiff from continuing military service but plaintiff nonetheless could not be deployed overseas.  As a result, plaintiff was transferred to Georgia and assigned to the “Rear Detachment” for plaintiff’s unit in Afghanistan where duties included, among many others, logistical and organizational support for plaintiff’s unit overseas.  Plaintiff was honorably discharged in 2003 but was declared 100% disabled in 2014 as a result of plaintiff’s military service.

The Appellate Division held, as did the lower court, that plaintiff’s disability was not the result from “active service, in time of war.”  The Legislature has listed sixteen separate military conflicts which meet the statutory criteria of “active service in times of war.”   Prior military conflicts were defined temporally with a beginning and end date during which the disability injury must occur, regardless of cause or location.  However, the Legislature has construed recent military conflicts more narrowly and geographically limited.  For instance, the applicable conflict here, Operation “Enduring Freedom,” requires: (1) service after September 11, 2001; (2) service in a theater of operation and in direct support of that operation; and (3) a service-incurred injury or disability while engaged in such service.”  Applying these factors, the Appellate Division affirmed that given that plaintiff’s injuries occurred during training and not “in a theater of operation or in direct support of a theater of operation,” plaintiff’s disability was not a result of “active service in time of war.”

A copy of the Tax Court’s opinion from last year can be found here, and the recent published opinion of the Appellate Division in this matter can be read here.