Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas No. 4 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1964, No. 4157, in case of American Society for Testing and Materials v. Board of Revision of Taxes of Philadelphia County.
Matthew W. Bullock, Jr., Second Deputy City Solicitor, with him Jerome R. Richter and Augustus R. Sigismondi, Assistant City Solicitors, and Edward G. Bauer, Jr., City Solicitor, for City of Philadelphia, appellant.
Morris R. Brooke and Lewis H. Van Dusen, Jr., for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Musmanno. Mr. Justice Jones and Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
In 1947 the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) applied for and received from the Board of Revision of Taxes, Philadelphia County, tax exemption for its property located at 1916-18 Race Street, Philadelphia, the application stating that: "The property is . . . used exclusively for the following purpose: as the national headquarters of the Society housing its library and information service, committee and conference rooms, its editorial, publication and administrative offices, which constitute an institution of learning within the meaning of the Act of May 22, 1933, P. L. 853, Art. II, Sec. 204, as amended by Sec. 1 of the Act of May 3, 1943, P. L. 158."
This exemption remained in effect from 1947 through 1962. In the latter year the society demolished its existing building and constructed new and enlarged headquarters, this construction reaching completion in 1964. The board of revision of taxes then raised assessment on the property from $109,000 to $1,350,000, refused tax exemption, and declared that the exemption which had first been granted and had been in effect for 15 years, had been made in error. The society appealed to the court of common pleas, which, after extended hearings, reversed the board, ruling that the society was a public charity, that it advanced the public welfare and was therefore entitled to the tax exemption prayed for. After exceptions filed by the City of Philadelphia, the court en banc affirmed the original decision and the city appealed.
The city contends that the society is not entitled to exemption from municipal taxation as a public charity, alleging: (1) its principal beneficiaries are its own members; (2) its membership is not open to the public but depends wholly on the discretion of the society's directors; (3) the society maintains no direct contact with the public except through a library not of general interest and little used by the public.
The appeal poses the question as to whether § 204 of The General County Assessment Law, passed pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution*fn* is here applicable. That section provides, inter alia, that the following property is tax exempt: "(c) All . . . associations and institutions of learning, benevolence, or charity . . . with the grounds thereto annexed and necessary for the occupancy and enjoyment of the same."
The facts in the case are not in dispute since the parties have filed a "Stipulation of Facts based on Evidence Presented at Hearing," the stipulation containing a resume of the uncontradicted evidence presented in the court below. That evidence definitively established that the purpose of the society is "promotion of knowledge of the materials of engineering and the standardization of specifications and methods of testing." This purpose is carried out by the society's technical committees (more than 2,000 in number), each having a specific area of scientific interest in the field of materials. These committees and their subcommittees meet regularly, review past research and developments, conduct special research projects, give lectures and prepare papers, conduct tests and develop methods of testing materials such as steel, iron, rubber, asphalt, plastic, concrete, etc., within their area of scientific concern. The society, through these committees, develops "standards" of performance which it believes the products should meet in order to provide adequate service for those who use them.
The forces of industry, education and governmental agencies throughout the nation supply from 1300 to 1500 of its leading scientists to the society, most of whom are college graduates, many of them holding doctor's degrees. The Federal government contributes the services of a large number of its scientists and engineers to the society. Practically every one of the 155 accredited engineering colleges and universities take part in the society's activities. The ASTM publishes numerous works containing results of its tests, studies and research. About 700 of the 1700 students engaging in the society's work receive free membership and the society's publications without charge. The ...