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UNIVERSITY PITTSBURGH TAX EXEMPTION CASE. (05/03/62)

May 3, 1962

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH TAX EXEMPTION CASE.


Appeal, No. 43, March T., 1962, from order of County Court of Allegheny County, No. A 290 of 1960, in re appeal of University of Pittsburgh from tax assessment. Order affirmed.

COUNSEL

Maurice Louik, County Solicitor, with him Francis A. Barry, First Assistant County Solicitor, and James Victor Voss and Harold Gondelman, Assistant County Solicitors, for appellant.

Charles Covert Arensberg, with him George W. Richards, Jr., and Patterson, Crawford, Arensberg & Dunn, for appellee.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen and O'brien, JJ.

Author: Jones

[ 407 Pa. Page 418]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BENJAMIN R. JONES

Is the residence of the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, owned by the university and located approximately 2 1/2 miles from the university campus, exempt from local taxation? The court below held that it was tax exempt. The propriety of that ruling is now before us.

This large residence, with a curtilage of slightly over one acre of land on Beechwood Boulevard, Pittsburgh, was purchased by the university as a residence for its chancellor in June, 1956. The taxing authorities placed the property in a tax exempt status for 1957 and 1958 but, on July 20, 1959, the university was notified that the property was being placed in a taxable status for 1959 at an assessed value of $45,000. The university appealed to the Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County (Board) but the Board denied the appeal. On appeal to the County Court of Allegheny County, Judge BECK, after hearing, directed that the property be placed in a tax exempt status and from that order the County appeals.

The Constitution exempts nothing from taxation but simply permits the General Assembly to exempt within a limited and restricted area: City of New Castle v. Lawrence County, 353 Pa. 175, 44 A.2d 589. Section 1 of Article IX of the Constitution authorized the General

[ 407 Pa. Page 419]

Assembly to exempt from taxation "public property used for public purposes, actual places of religious worship, places of burial not used or held for private or corporate profit, institutions of purely public charity and real and personal property owned, occupied, and used by any branch, post or camp of honorably discharged soldiers, sailors and marines." Section 2 of the same Article provides: "All laws exempting property from taxation, other than the property above enumerated shall be void."

Pursuant to this constitutional authority, the General Assembly under the General County Assessment Law,*fn1 Section 204 provided: "The following property shall be exempt from all county, city, borough, town, township, road, poor and school tax, to wit: ... (c) All hospitals, universities, colleges, seminaries, academies, associations and institutions of learning, benevolence, or charity, including fire and rescue stations, with the grounds thereto annexed and necessary for the occupancy and enjoyment of the same, founded, endowed, and maintained by public or private charity: Provided, That the entire revenue derived by the same shall be applied to the support and to increase the efficiency and facilities thereof, the repair and the necessary increase of grounds and buildings thereof, and for no other purpose; (1) ... Except as otherwise provided ... all property, real or personal, other than that which is in actual use and occupation for the purposes specified in this section, and all such property from which any income or revenue is derived, other than from recipients of the bounty of the institution or charity, shall be subject to taxation, ...."

In the disposition of this appeal we are bound not only by the provisions of the Constitution and the Act of 1933, supra, but also by certain principles well settled in this area of the law. In the first place, a claimant

[ 407 Pa. Page 420]

    for a tax exemption has the burden of bringing himself within the exemption statute: Wynnefield United Presbyterian Church v. City of Philadelphia, 348 Pa. 252, 35 A.2d 276; Com. v. Clark, 344 Pa. 155, 25 A.2d 143. In the second place, statutory provisions exempting property from taxation are subject to a strict, not a liberal, construction (Statutory Construction Act of May 28, 1937, P.L. 1019, § 58, 46 PS § 558(5); Y.M.C.A. v. Reading, 402 Pa. 592, 167 A.2d 469; McGuire v. Pittsburgh School District, 359 Pa. 602, 60 A.2d 44; Meadville City v. Odd Fellows' Home, 128 Pa. Superior Ct. 180, 193 A. 662) and to this rule of construction there is no exception in the case of property owned by nonprofit educational institutions devoted to educational purposes and objectives.*fn2 In the third place, we must apply the well settled rule that findings of fact of a trial judge, confirmed by the court en banc, have the force and effect of a jury verdict and will not be set aside unless such findings lack sufficient evidential support. In the fourth place, the fact that the residence of the president, chancellor or head of a university or college is not located on the campus is not controlling: Meadville City v. Allegheny College, 131 Pa. Superior Ct. 343, 200 A. 105. In Meadville, supra, it was held that the residence of the president of Allegheny College was tax exempt from local taxation even though the residence was not on the college grounds, the Court stating (p. 344): "That the exemption applies even though the building is not annexed

[ 407 Pa. Page 421]

    or contiguous to the campus or college grounds [citing cases]." Other jurisdictions are in accord: In re Syracuse University, 209 N.Y.S. 329, aff'd. 214 App.Div. 375; Rutgers College v. Piscataway Township, 20 N.J. Misc. 127, 25 A.2d 248.

On one occasion, our Court has spoken on the tax exemption status of the residence of a college president: County of Northampton v. Lafayette College, 128 Pa. 132, 18 A. 516. In that case the issue was the exemption from taxation of certain dwellings used as residences for professors, the college gardener, the presidents' secretary and the president.*fn3 In upholding a tax exemption for all these dwellings the Court assumed as a general proposition "that a president's house is a necessary part of the plant of every well regulated college ...." (p. 140) In Parmentier Trustees', Appeal, 139 Pa. Superior Ct. 27, 11 A.2d 690, the Superior Court stated (p. 33): "Universities, colleges, academies, schools and institutions of learning which come within the statutory classification, are held exempt from taxation ...; and this exemption extends not only to quarters used for employees and for dormitories and dining halls used for the students but also to buildings ... used by it to house the president and faculty. [citing cases]." (Emphasis supplied) in White v. Smith, 189 Pa. 222, 42 A. 125, we held that a convent used as a residence for teachers in a parochial school was tax exempt. Cf: Dougherty v. Philadelphia, 314 Pa. 298, 304, 305, 171 A. 583, wherein this Court held that so much of a building, used both as

[ 407 Pa. Page 422]

    the rector's residence and the office of the rector acting as principal of an adjoining school, as was used as a rectory was taxable.

The real nub of this controversy is the use to which the residence of the chancellor is put.*fn4 The burden was upon the university to establish the primacy of the use of this residence in furtherance of the general purposes of the university. The court below found as a fact that the residence was "used to receive and entertain student organizations, members of the faculty and administrative staff, alumni, donors, members of the Board of Trustees, visiting presidents, deans, faculty and students from colleges and universities of the United States and foreign countries, government officials of the United States and foreign countries, and leaders in the fields of education, the learned professions, science and business" and that the "dominant use of the Chancellor's official residence*f ...


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