Suffolk. Appeals from decisions of the Appellate Tax Board. The cases were submitted on briefs.
Hennessey, C.j., Quirico, Braucher, Kaplan, & Abrams, JJ.
Taxation, Real estate tax: assessment, abatement; Assessors. Evidence, Hearsay, Burden of going forward.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Quirico
Upon appeal by a town's board of assessors from decisions of the Appellate Tax Board granting abatements on two parcels of real estate, there was no merit to the assessors' argument that the board erred in admitting in evidence a study of sale transactions of properties during the relevant years because the sale prices listed in the study were hearsay. [497-498]
Evidence in real estate tax abatement cases before the Appellate Tax Board, including a study of the ratio of assessed value to sale price of 40% to 50% of all residential properties sold during the relevant years, was sufficient to raise an inference of a scheme of discriminatory disproportionate assessment. [498-500]
Evidence in real estate tax abatement cases before the Appellate Tax Board was sufficient to support the board's finding that there existed a scheme of discriminatory assessment. [500-501]
In real estate tax abatement cases before the Appellate Tax Board, there was sufficient evidence to support the board's decision to reduce the assessment of the taxpayers' property from 100% to 70% of its fair market value. 
These cases are a consolidation of appeals from two decisions of the Appellate Tax Board (board) granting abatements of taxes on two parcels of real estate in Weymouth. The board's finding of the fair market value of the two parcels is not challenged on appeal. The questions presented here are whether there was sufficient evidence to support the board's finding that, during the years relevant to these cases, real property in Weymouth was assessed at 70% of its fair market value, and whether a study of ratios of assessed values to sale prices for some properties in Weymouth was properly admitted in evidence.
The first property that is the subject of these appeals is a small shopping center located on 125,900 square feet of land in Weymouth, and owned by the trustees of Curtlo Realty Trust (Curtlo). *fn2 The second parcel consists of 578,961 square feet of land and a building thereon, in Weymouth, owned by the appellees Hy Winer and another, trustees of Boston Super Markets, and leased to the appellee Ray-Mart Trust (Ray-Mart), which was required under the lease to pay a portion of the real estate tax on the property. *fn3 Both Curtlo and Ray-Mart *fn4 filed applications with the board of assessors for the town of Weymouth (assessors) for abatement of their respective real property taxes for the year 1973, the first six months of 1974, and the fiscal year 1975. Each application was denied by the assessors, and appeals were taken to the Appellate Tax Board. *fn5 On February 10, 1976, the board held a separate hearing for each property on the issue of its fair market value. *fn6 The findings reached by the board at those hearings are not challenged here. In addition to the valuation question, however, both Curtlo and Ray-Mart claimed that they were victims of a scheme of disproportionate assessment because many parcels in Weymouth, and particularly residential property, were assessed at less than their market value. Since the factual and legal questions were the same for Curtlo and Ray-Mart on the issue of disproportion, the cases, as to this issue, were heard together.
At the hearing on the issue of disproportionate assessment, the only evidence introduced by Curtlo and Ray-Mart (taxpayers) was a study of sale transactions of properties during the relevant years (study). For each transaction the study listed the grantor, the grantee, the address of the property, the price recited on the deed as the sale price, and the assessed value of the property for the year following the sale. A ratio of assessed value to sale price was then calculated for each listing. The study listed 279 sales for 1972, 281 sales for 1973, and 283 sales for 1974. The transactions listed were almost exclusively sales of residential properties. The study showed that the properties sold in 1972 were assessed the following year at an average of 72.3% of the sale price, those sold in 1973 at 65.8%, and those sold in 1974 at 63.07%.
A copy of this study had been provided to the assessors on October 10, 1975. The hearing before the board on the question of disproportionate assessment, originally scheduled for February 10, 1976, was continued until March 24, 1976, in order to give the assessors additional time to examine the study and to prepare an exhibit of their own. At the March 24 hearing the study was admitted in evidence over the assessors' objection. The taxpayers did not indicate on what basis the transactions listed were chosen for inclusion in the study, other than that an attempt had been made to limit the listing to sales of residential properties. Nor did the taxpayers produce any evidence beyond the study, such as certified copies of deeds or the assessment records, which corroborated the sale prices or the assessed values listed therein. There was, however, testimony from one of the assessors that he reviewed the sale prices and the assessments and found a substantial number of them to be correct.
Testimony elicited by the assessors attempted to show that no discrimination existed in the town's assessing practices. There was evidence that all the property in Weymouth had been revalued by an outside assessing firm during 1968. Since that time the assessors had revalued property only if improvements had been made to it. A member of the Weymouth board of assessors testified that it was the policy of the assessors to assess all property in the town at 100% of fair market value. In an attempt to discredit the taxpayers' study, an employee of the assessors testified that his research, done in preparation for this case, had indicated that in Weymouth in 1972, 1973, and 1974, there had been 1,200, 1,300, and 1,400 real estate sales, respectively, of which 700, 650, and 520 were for residential properties. The assessors also questioned specifically about fifty listings in the study, and the taxpayers agreed to strike them. *fn7 The board gave the assessors until April 12, 1976, to file a written response to the study. Such a response was filed, and it challenged ninety-seven sales on various grounds. *fn8
The board found that the assessment to sales ratio study "represented a substantial amount of the total sales that took place in each of the years in question, and that . . . study represented a substantial amount (about 40 to 50%) of the residential sales that took place for the years in question." It noted the challenge made to ninety-seven sales by the assessors. Nevertheless it held, on the basis of all the evidence presented to it, that the taxpayers had sustained their burden of raising an inference that the assessors engaged in a scheme of discriminatory disproportionate assessment. The board also decided that the assessors did not go forward to show that there was no such scheme. The board therefore concluded that the taxpayers were entitled to relief, and that the ratio of assessment to fair ...