Form Matters: Co. Loses $2.2 Million Tax Appeal For Sending Wrong Form, Late, to Wrong Place

 

In a tax abatement decision issued today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reminds litigants of the importance of precisely following statutory requirements.  In Veolia Energy Boston, Inc.  v. Board of Assessors of Boston (No. 17-P-1020), the court rejected an appeal by Veolia involving a $2.2 million tax that was likely improperly assessed but which Veolia cannot challenge because it sent the wrong form, late, to the wrong government office.  In issuing its decision, the Court noted “In reaching our conclusion, we acknowledge that the result is a harsh one for Veolia, and will be particularly severe if the tax board's decision that the tax levied on its personal property for fiscal year 2014 was assessed unlawfully is affirmed. However, neither the statute, nor the relevant case law, permit a different conclusion.”  The concurring Justice (Henry, J.) agreed: “I write separately to underscore how harsh this ruling is: had Veolia filed the form approved by the Commissioner of Revenue (commissioner), the board of assessors of Boston (assessors) would have received no more information than Veolia's . . . letter already provided, and yet its claim is barred.”

The learning of the case?  When filing a tax abatement application with the board of assessors under  G. L. c. 59, § 59, the applicant must “apply in writing to the assessors, on a form approved by the commissioner,” and it must be done by the deadline (February 6 for fiscal year 2015).  Here, the company sent letters with quarterly payments not to the assessors but to the “City of Boston Collector of Taxes.”   These letters were not sent by the deadline, were not sent to the assessors and were not on an approved form.  This is a shame because the tax board agreed with the company that similar property from earlier periods “was exempt from taxation” due to an exemption on certain property of a manufacturing corporation.