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Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette Inc. v. Board of Assessors of Attleboro (Lawyers Weekly No. 10-049-17)

NOTICE:  All slip opinions and orders are subject to formal revision and are superseded by the advance sheets and bound volumes of the Official Reports.  If you find a typographical error or other formal error, please notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, 1 Pemberton Square, Suite 2500, Boston, MA, 02108-1750; (617) 557-1030; SJCReporter@sjc.state.ma.us   SJC-12021   SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF LA SALETTE INC.  vs.  BOARD OF ASSESSORS OF ATTLEBORO.       Suffolk.     December 5, 2016. – March 22, 2017.   Present:  Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.     Taxation, Real estate tax:  abatement, Real estate tax:  exemption, Real estate tax:  classification of property.  Real Property, Tax.       Appeal from a decision of the Appellate Tax Board.   The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.     Diane C. Tillotson (Ryan P. McManus also present) for the taxpayer. Michael R. Siddall (James M. Hannifan also present) for board of assessors of Attleboro. Heidi A. Nadel, for Massachusetts Council of Churches & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief. Felicia H. Ellsworth, Eric L. Hawkins, & William R. O’Reilly, Jr., for Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.     GANTS, C.J.  This is an appeal from a decision of the Appellate Tax Board (board) concerning property in Attleboro owned by the taxpayer, Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette Inc. (Shrine).  The Shrine sought a tax abatement from the board, claiming that certain portions of its property were exempt from taxation under G. L. c. 59, § 5, Eleventh (Clause Eleventh), the exemption for “houses of religious worship.”  The crux of the appeal is the scope of this exemption.  For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that property is exempt from taxation under Clause Eleventh where the dominant purpose of the questioned portion of property is religious worship or instruction, or purposes connected with it.  Applying this principle, we conclude that the board erred when it found that the Shrine’s “welcome center” and maintenance building were not exempt under Clause Eleventh.  We affirm its denial of an abatement for the former convent that the Shrine leased to a nonprofit organization for use as a safe house for battered women, and for the wildlife sanctuary that was exclusively managed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in accordance with a conservation easement.  The safe house and wildlife sanctuary might have been exempt from real estate taxation under G. L. c. 59, § 5, Third (Clause Third), as the property of a benevolent or charitable organization devoted to charitable use, had the Shrine satisfied the filing requirements for such an exemption, but they were not exempt under Clause Eleventh.[1] Background.  […]

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Posted by Massachusetts Legal Resources - March 22, 2017 at 2:43 pm

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