Justia Non-Profit Corporations Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Fairbanks North Star Borough v. Victory Ministries of Alaska, Inc., et al.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough partially revoked a local ministry’s charitable property tax exemption after learning that the ministry was renting lodging to the general public. The ministry appealed the Borough’s decision to the superior court. The court remanded the issue to the Borough’s assessor for more detailed findings, instructed the ministry that any appeal following remand should be made to the Board of Equalization rather than superior court, and closed the case. The assessor issued new findings justifying the partial revocation of the tax exemption, and the ministry appealed to both the Board and the superior court (in a different case). The ministry also filed a motion in the first appeal asking the superior court to enforce its order instructing that appeals be made to the Board. The superior court issued a sua sponte order granting the ministry’s first appeal on the merits, finding “that the assessor [did not] rely on sufficient evidence to revoke [the ministry’s] tax exempt status.” The Borough appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that following remand, supplemental Board findings, and a new appeal from those findings, the superior court lacked the subject matter jurisdiction to decide the ministry’s first appeal on the merits. The Supreme Court therefore vacate its decision granting Victory’s appeal. View "Fairbanks North Star Borough v. Victory Ministries of Alaska, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Alabama Department of Revenue v. Greenetrack, Inc.
In 2003, the Alabama Legislature and the citizens of Greene County voted to allow nonprofit organizations in that county to operate bingo games for fundraising purposes. Greenetrack, Inc. ("Greenetrack"), which was not a nonprofit organization, almost immediately began offering live and electronic bingo games at its gambling facility. From 2004 to 2008, Greenetrack reaped vast profits under the guise that its whole casino-style bingo operation was constantly being leased and operated by a revolving slate of local nonprofit organizations, whose nominal role earned them a tiny fraction of the bingo proceeds. Eventually, the Alabama Department of Revenue ("the Department") audited Greenetrack, found that its bingo activities were illegal, and concluded that it owed over $76 million in unpaid taxes and interest. Following a decade of litigation, the Alabama Tax Tribunal voided the assessed taxes on the threshold ground that Greenetrack's bingo business (regardless of its legality) was tax-immune under a statute governing Greenetrack's status as a licensed operator of dog races. The Department appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court reversed, rejecting the statutory analysis offered by the Tax Tribunal and circuit court. Judgment was rendered in favor of the Department. View "Alabama Department of Revenue v. Greenetrack, Inc." on Justia Law
Community Action Agency of Butte County v. Super. Ct.
The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review in this case centered on whether petitioner, The Community Action Agency of Butte County (CAA), had to produce its business records pursuant to the California Public Records Act (CPRA), the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and/or a regulation promulgated by real party in interest, California’s Department of Community Services and Development (the Department). After considering the arguments presented (including those of amici curiae), the text and history of CPRA, and other applicable authorities, the Court concluded: (1) a nonprofit entity like CAA might be an “other local public agency” only in exceptional circumstances not present here; (2) under a four-factor test adopted based on persuasive out-of-state authority, there was not substantial evidence for the trial court’s ruling that CAA was an “other local public agency”; (3) FOIA did not apply to CAA; and (4) the Department’s regulation did not require CAA to provide public access to its records generally. Accordingly, the trial court’s order was vacated. View "Community Action Agency of Butte County v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
Turner v. Victoria
Debra Turner, formerly a director and president of the Conrad Prebys Foundation (Foundation), appealed judgments of dismissal in favor of the Foundation and its directors, following orders sustaining demurrers to her probate and civil actions. In those actions, Turner alleged the other Foundation directors breached their fiduciary duties in preapproving a settlement range for Laurie Victoria, who served both as a Foundation director and as the trustee of the Conrad Prebys Trust (Trust), to negotiate a settlement of a trust challenge by a disinherited heir. Turner also challenged Victoria’s actions as trustee. Several months after commencing her action, Turner’s term as a Foundation director and officer expired when she was not reelected to her positions during the annual election process. The civil and probate courts determined that Turner lost standing to maintain her causes of action. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether a director of a nonprofit public benefit corporation who brings an action on behalf of the nonprofit public benefit corporation could lose standing to pursue its claims if the director was not reelected during the litigation. The Court of Appeal concluded the statutory scheme and public policy considerations required a continuous relationship with the public benefit corporation that was special and definite to ensure the litigation was pursued in good faith for the benefit of the corporation. "If a plaintiff does not maintain such a relationship, the statutory scheme provides the nonprofit public benefit corporation with protection through the Attorney General, who may pursue any necessary action either directly or by granting an individual relator status." Because Turner lost standing to pursue her causes of action, the Court affirmed the judgments of dismissal as to Turner acting in her capacity as a former director and officer. The case was remanded, however, with directions for the civil and probate courts to grant 60 days leave to amend, limited to the issue of whether a proper plaintiff could be substituted to pursue the existing claims. The Attorney General could consider during that 60-day period whether granting relator status to Turner, or another individual, for these claims was appropriate. View "Turner v. Victoria" on Justia Law
Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta
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
Woods v. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission
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
The New London Hospital Association, Inc. v. Town of Newport
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
In Re: Appeal of Coatesville Area Sch Dist
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
Zlotoff Foundation, Inc. v. Town of South Hero
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
Brown v. Pacifica Foundation, Inc.
Pacifica, a California non-profit corporation, owns and operates public radio stations, including KPFK in Los Angeles. Brown was elected to be a “Delegate” of KPFK and subsequently to a position on Pacifica’s National Board of Directors. Pacifica notified Brown she was ineligible for those positions because she was a Los Angeles Small Business Commissioner. Pacifica bylaws bar individuals from serving in board positions while they hold any public office. Claiming her removal was instigated by a rival faction of Pacifica’s National Board, Brown and others with similar complaints sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, finding that Brown’s position on the Commission is not a public office. The court of appeal reversed. The term “public office” has more than one legal definition. The common law definition has two elements: a fixed and permanent tenure of office in which incumbents succeed one another and delegation to the officer of some portion of the sovereign functions of government, either legislative, executive, or judicial. The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has delegated tasks to the Commission that it would otherwise perform itself; the Commission clearly serves a function that aids the Board. The fact that a body serves an advisory function does not preclude it from being a public office. View "Brown v. Pacifica Foundation, Inc." on Justia Law