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Mall Ordered To Pay Attorneys’ Fees After Losing Case
By Tina Traster
A Rockland County court has dismissed an effort by The Palisades Center to be reimbursed from the Town of Clarkstown, the county and the school district, for taxes paid over four years from 2013/4 through 2016/2017.
The mall was seeking $2.64 million, claiming an agreement made in 2013 with the taxing agencies capped the Palisades Center’s taxes to $21 million annually. The taxing authorities disagreed with the mall’s interpretation of the 2013 agreement, citing a mechanism for annual adjustments based on the language contained in the prior stipulation.
While the ruling by Robert M. Berliner both releases the taxing agencies from reimbursements and awards attorneys’ fees, there are two newer tax certioraris pending from the years 2020 and 2021.
“The town has won a significant victory in a tax certiorari case filed in 2013 by the owners of the Palisades Center Mall (EklecCo),” said Clarkstown Town Supervisor George Hoehmann. “Supreme Court Justice Berliner dismissed a petition seeking a $2.6 million refund from what the Palisades Center Mall asserted was an overpayment of taxes. In dismissing the case, the court found that the Palisades Center Mall breached its obligation and ordered the Palisades Center Mall to reimburse the town for all reasonable attorney fees incurred during this action.”
The court found that the terms of the original agreement to be “unambiguous.”
The judge wrote, “The stipulation explicitly contemplated that arriving at ‘approximately $21 million’ was not guaranteed due to unknown future tax rates, and instead, incorporated a calculation to adjust the property’s assessment value so that the taxes would stay approximately near that intended amount.”
In 2013, the center successfully challenged its assessment, costing the town, county and school district $20 million. Clarkstown bonded its share of the settlement. The school district used its reserve funds. A moratorium on the future filing of tax challenges was lifted in 2020.
In August 2021, the mall sought a reduction of full market value of nearly $462 million to about $173 million. However, taxes are not levied on full market value; they are assessed after an equalization rate is applied to the full market value to determine an assessed value. This case is still pending. Should the mall succeed, its assessed value would be reduced from $140 million to $53 million.
The Palisades Center on July 31, 2020 filed a similar suit in court to reduce its assessment from $140 million to $60 million but there has been no resolution on the petitions.
The current suit says the property’s value declined year-over-year due to continuing pressure on its “bricks-and-mortar” business from e-commerce sales, sales declines, and record bankruptcies and store closures, particularly for department stores and fashion retailers that were once the primary focus on the mall.
Though the pandemic accelerated the mall’s decline, the Palisades Center was in trouble prior to COVID-19.
Additionally, the mall says it has advised the town assessor that “the fair market value of the property had also been negatively affected by the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic catastrophe.” The mall also says “in spite of the information provided, the town’s assessor listed the property at a total assessed value of $140, 223,667 on the town’s tentative assessment roll for 2021.