Justia Non-Profit Corporations Opinion Summaries

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Charitable organizations soliciting funds in California generally must register with the Attorney General and renew their registrations annually by filing copies of their IRS Form 990, on which tax-exempt organizations provide the names and addresses of their major donors. Two tax-exempt charities that solicit contributions in California renewed their registrations and filed redacted Form 990s to preserve their donors’ anonymity. The Attorney General threatened the charities with the suspension of their registrations and fines. The charities alleged that the compelled disclosure requirement violated their First Amendment rights and the rights of their donors. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Attorney General.The Supreme Court reversed. California’s disclosure requirement is facially invalid because it burdens donors’ First Amendment rights and is not narrowly tailored to an important government interest. Compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as other forms of governmental action. Exacting scrutiny requires that a government-mandated disclosure regime be narrowly tailored to the government’s asserted interest, even if it is not the least restrictive means of achieving that end.A dramatic mismatch exists between the Attorney General's asserted interest and the disclosure regime. While California’s interests in preventing charitable fraud and self-dealing are important, the enormous amount of sensitive information collected through the disclosures does not form an integral part of California’s fraud detection efforts. California does not rely on those disclosures to initiate investigations. There is no evidence that alternative means of obtaining the information, such as a subpoena or audit letter, are inefficient and ineffective by comparison. Mere administrative convenience does not “reflect the seriousness of the actual burden” that the disclosure requirement imposes on donors’ association rights. It does not make a difference if there is no public disclosure, if some donors do not mind having their identities revealed, or if the relevant donor information is already disclosed to the IRS. View "Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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The Grand Cayman Blue Iguana is protected by the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531, and by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which ban their collection, trade, and export. The Secretary of the Interior may permit “any” otherwise prohibited conduct “to enhance the propagation or survival” of a protected species. The nonprofit Phoenix Herpetological Society applied for permits to export four blue iguanas to a Danish zoo and continue its captive-bred wildlife program at its Arizona facility. For export, the Fish and Wildlife Service must find that “proposed export would not be detrimental to the survival of the species.” The Service also evaluates—under Endangered Species Act criteria—whether a permit “would be likely to reduce the threat of extinction facing the species.” The applicant bears the burden of showing that its specimens were lawfully acquired, including lawful importation of the ancestors of specimens it has bred.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of the permits. The agency determined that exporting the iguanas would not be “detrimental” to the species but that exporting them would not “reduce the threat of extinction” for the species. The court concluded that its reasoning was not inconsistent. The Service appropriately acknowledged the prior permits and explained that inconsistent assertions about the parental stock raised new questions about lawful acquisition. View "Phoenix Herpetological Society, Inc. v. Fish and Wildlife Service" on Justia Law

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Clay County Animal Shelter, Inc. ("the animal shelter"), appealed a circuit court judgment declaring Act No. 2018-432, Ala. Acts 2018, to be unconstitutional. The animal shelter was a nonprofit “no-kill” organization that provided food, water, medical care, spay and neutering services, and adoption services for stray and abandoned animals in Clay County, Alabama. Most of the people working at the animal shelter were unpaid volunteers. The animal shelter incurs numerous expenses associated with operating the shelter and caring for the animals. The legislature sought to provide funding to the animal shelter with proceeds from the tobacco tax authorized in Clay County pursuant to section 45-14-244, Ala. Code 1975. It was undisputed that Act No. 2017-65, the appropriation measure at issue, did not receive the vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house. The Clay County Commission argued that that portion of Act No. 2017-65 purporting to distribute funds to the Clay County General Fund to be disbursed to the animal shelter was, therefore, unconstitutional. After careful consideration, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in declaring Act No. 2018-432 as unconstitutional. Judgment was reversed. View "Clay County Animal Shelter, Inc. v. Clay County Commission et al." on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether the Washington legislature extended a privilege or immunity to religious and other nonprofit, secular employers and whether, in providing the privilege or immunity, the legislature affected a fundamental right without a reasonable basis for doing so. Lawmakers enacted Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) to protect citizens from discrimination in employment, and exempted religious nonprofits from the definition of “employer.” In enacting WLAD, the legislature created a statutory right for employees to be free from discrimination in the workplace while allowing employers to retain their constitutional right, as constrained by state and federal case law, to choose workers who reflect the employers’ beliefs when hiring ministers. Matthew Woods brought an employment discrimination action against Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (SUGM). At trial, SUGM successfully moved for summary judgment pursuant to RCW 49.60.040(11)’s religious employer exemption. Woods appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, contesting the constitutionality of the statute. SUGM argued RCW 49.60.040(11)’s exemption applied to its hiring decisions because its employees were expected to minister to their clients. Under Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 140 S. Ct. 2049 (2020), plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim must yield in a few limited circumstances, including where the employee in question was a minister. Whether ministerial responsibilities and functions discussed in Our Lady of Guadalupe were present in Woods’ case was not decided below. The Supreme Court determined RCW 49.60.040(11) was constitutional but could be constitutionally invalid as applied to Woods. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court to determine whether SUGM met the ministerial exception. View "Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission" on Justia Law

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The Freedom Foundation was a nonprofit organization that describes itself as committed to “advanc[ing] individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government in the Evergreen State.” The Foundation brought citizen’s actions against Teamsters Local 117; Service Employees International Union Political Education and Action Fund (SEIU PEAF); and Governor Inslee, the Department of Social and Health Services, and Service Employees International Union 775 for various alleged violations of Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA). In consolidated appeals, the issue common to all was whether the Freedom Foundation satisfied the FCPA’s prerequisites before filing their citizen’s actions. In each case, the superior courts ruled the Foundation failed to meet a 10-day deadline required by the FCPA and, accordingly, entered judgment for respondents. After review, the Washington Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. With respect to the Foundation's suit against the Teamsters Local 117, the Supreme Court determined that though the superior court erred by granting judgment on the pleadings to the union, the court’s entry of judgment would have been proper as summary judgment, and was thus affirmed. This result precluded the Foundation’s other challenges to the superior court’s rulings, which were therefore not addressed. As to the union's cross-appeal of its counterclaim against the Foundation under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Foundation was not a state actor, was not wielding powers traditionally and exclusively reserved to the State, and therefore was not subject to suit under section 1983. View "Freedom Found. v. Teamsters Local 117" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff The New London Hospital Association, Inc. (Hospital), challenged a superior court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Town of Newport (Town), in the Hospital’s appeal of the Town’s denial of the Hospital’s application for a charitable tax exemption, and denying the Hospital’s motion to amend its complaint. At a meeting held on August 29, 2016, the Newport Board of Selectmen (board) voted to deny the Hospital’s application for the 2016 tax year “because the application for the exemption was untimely and because the level of charity care provided by the hospital is very small and it is a fee for service operation.” The Town informed the Hospital of the board’s decision by letter dated September 7, 2016. Aside from the filing of a related tax form on May 23, 2016, the parties did not communicate at all regarding the Hospital’s application for a charitable exemption for tax year 2016 between the date the Form A-9 was filed and the date the application was denied by the board. The Hospital did not dispute its form was untimely filed. However, the Hospital argued the Town waived any objection to the timeliness of the Hospital’s application, and because the Hospital was able to satisfy the statutory standard of accident, mistake or misfortune. While the summary judgment motion was pending, the Hospital moved to amend its complaint to add a claim alleging an equal protection violation based upon the Town’s administrative policy, uncovered by the Hospital during discovery, of notifying particular entities, not including the Hospital, of approaching filing deadlines for tax exemptions. The trial court denied the Hospital’s motion, ruling that the amendment introduced an entirely new cause of action, would call for substantially different evidence, and would not cure the defect in the complaint. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the trial court properly granted the Town's motion for summary judgment, and sustainably exercised its discretion in denying the Hospital's motion to amend. View "The New London Hospital Association, Inc. v. Town of Newport" on Justia Law

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Two taxing districts undertook parallel challenges to a property’s partial tax exemption. Appellee Huston Properties, Inc. (“Taxpayer”), owned the subject property (the “Property”). In 2013, Taxpayer, claiming to be a charitable institution, sought tax-exempt status for the Property for the 2014 tax year. After a hearing, the Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals granted a partial exemption, reasoning that that portion of the Property was used for charitable purposes. The City of Coatesville appealed that decision to the Court of Common Pleas. Six days later, the Coatesville Area School District, another taxing authority encompassing the Property, lodged its own appeal, also challenging the Property’s partially-tax-exempt status. The School District also intervened in the City's case. Ultimately, the trial court affirmed the Board's grant of a partial exemption. Both the City and the School District appealed to the Commonwealth Court, and Taxpayer cross-appealed as to each, seeking fully-exempt status for the Property. In a memorandum decision, the Commonwealth Court vacated and remanded to the trial court for more specific findings to support the partial tax exemption. On remand, the trial court set forth particularized findings and conclusions, and re-affirmed its earlier decision assessing the Property. At this juncture, the City elected not to appeal to the Commonwealth Court. The School District appealed the ruling in its own case, but it did not appeal the identical, simultaneous ruling which contained the City’s docket number. Taxpayer moved to quash the School District’s appeal. The Commonwealth Court granted the motion and dismissed the appeal observing that the common pleas court’s ruling in the City’s case became final after no party appealed it. Because the School District had intervened in that matter, it was a party to those proceedings. With that premise, the court found that res judicata and collateral estoppel barred it from reaching the merits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that issue preclusion under the rubric of collateral estoppel should not have been applied to defeat the School District’s ability to obtain merits review of its substantive arguments in the intermediate court. The Commonwealth Court's judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for a merits disposition of the consolidated cross-appeals. View "In Re: Appeal of Coatesville Area Sch Dist" on Justia Law

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Pamela Neppel, individually and as the parent and legal guardian of Z.N., an incapacitated individual, appealed amended judgment entered after a jury trial. She also appealed denying leave to amend her complaint, an order for an amended judgment, and an order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. Development Homes, Inc. (DHI) cross appealed an order denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. Z.N., at the time of the incident giving rise to this case, was living at a residential care facility operated by DHI. Neppel was Z.N.’s mother. Neppel filed this lawsuit alleging Z.N. was raped by another resident, referred to as S.O., who lived on the same floor of the facility as Z.N.’s housemate. Neppel alleged DHI had knowledge S.O. was a sexual predator and Z.N. was susceptible to abuse, yet DHI withheld information from her about the risk of placing the two together. Neppel also alleged DHI did not immediately report the rape or provide prompt and adequate medical care for Z.N. Along with DHI, Neppel sued various DHI employees, as well as S.O.’s co-guardians. The case was tried to a jury on counts of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury returned a verdict awarding Neppel and Z.N. $550,000 in damages. The jury specifically awarded Z.N. $100,000 for damages caused by DHI’s negligence. The jury also awarded Z.N. and Neppel $400,000 and $50,000 in damages, respectively, for past and future severe emotional distress caused by DHI. The jury did not find any of the individually-named defendants liable. DHI filed a motion to amend the judgment asserting it was entitled to charitable immunity under N.D.C.C. ch. 32-03.3, which set liability limits for certain charitable organizations. The court granted the motion and entered an amended judgment that applied the $250,000 charitable organization liability limit. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the order denying Neppel leave to amend her complaint and the order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court reversed the order denying DHI’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding Neppel’s appeal from the order for amended judgment was moot. View "Neppel, et al. v. Development Homes, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Zhi An Wang, Yu Liu, Bo Xu, Yanhong Sun, Yong Li, Tao Chen, Lina Tao, Bin Qu, Qingjiang Li, Tao Jing, Xingchuan Wu, Jun Shi, Ke Zhang, Zhuo Xiao, and Yugang Xie appealed a trial court order granting defendants Shimin Fang and his spouse, Juhua Liu's motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint on the grounds of forum non conveniens (motion). Fang and Juhua Liu resided in San Diego County. Plaintiffs all resided in the People’s Republic of China. Fang created a website in China that published articles and other content regarding purported examples of fraud, corruption, and bureaucratic inefficiency affecting the scientific and academic communities in China. In about 2005, Fang publicly criticized a urologist who claimed to have a developed a treatment for a rare disease. A year later, the urologist sued Fang, and a Chinese court ruled in the urologist's favor. In 2010, Fang was attacked by individuals purportedly hired by the urologist as revenge for his public criticism of the doctor. As a result of the attack, Fang established a business in China called “Personal Safety Foundation for Scientific Anti-Fraud Individuals” (Foundation). Fang used the Foundation’s website among other methods to obtain donations. Fang represented that donated funds “would be used solely for the protection of the personal safety of individuals engaged in anti-fraud activities,” and that any such awards could be used by recipients for the “purpose of protecting their personal safety.” As an inducement to obtain donations, Fang publicly represented that no monies collected to fund the Foundation would be used to pay for his personal living expenses. For approximately eight years, the Foundation collected donations from “several thousand donors” including plaintiffs. The complaint alleged defendants misused Foundation funds “for personal transactions” in contravention of the stated mission and purpose of the Foundation. Defendants in their motion argued the complaint should have been dismissed on the ground of inconvenient forum because the matter should be litigated in China, where all plaintiffs resided and where the Foundation was located. The Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that China was a suitable forum. However, the California Court agreed with plaintiffs that in the interest of justice, the case should have been stayed and not dismissed, with the U.S. court to retain jurisdiction over the matter pending the outcome of the case in China. View "Wang v. Fang" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the tax status of a 9.9-acre parcel of land containing an 11,500-square-foot garage that was owned and used by Zlotoff Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization, for the purpose of storing and maintaining a collection of classic automobiles that it displayed at its nearby museum. The trial court ruled that the garage and the land were tax-exempt because they were used for a public purpose. However, it denied the Foundation’s request for a refund of property taxes paid to the Town of South Hero from 2016 to 2018 because the Foundation did not obtain a certificate of authority allowing it to transact business in Vermont until 2019. The Foundation and the Town both appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Zlotoff Foundation, Inc. v. Town of South Hero" on Justia Law