Taxation of Public Charity Property In DC

The statute at issue in Catholic Home for Aged Ladies v. District of Columbia, 82 U.S. App. D.C. 195, 161 F.2d 901 (1947) exempted from taxation "buildings belonging to and operated by institutions which are not operated for private gain, which are used for purposes of public charity principally in the District of Columbia." Id., 82 U.S. App. D.C. at 196, 161 F.2d at 902. The building in question belonged to one charitable corporation and was operated by an auxiliary charity. Id. The District took a position similar to the one it takes in this case, i.e., that the exemption would only apply where there was a concurrence of ownership and operation in one institution. Id. The Court of Appeals did not read the "belonging to and operated by" language in the conjunctive, but rather determined that "a more logical construction is that there must be use by a charitable organization and ownership by a charitable organization." Id. While the present case presents a slightly different issue, Catholic Home is instructive, nevertheless, in suggesting that the "belonging to and operated by" language is not so unambiguous that the conjunctive interpretation is clear and therefore, conclusive. The District argues that this court and its predecessor have rejected the disjunctive reading of this section in District of Columbia v. Catholic Univ. of America, 397 A.2d 915 (D.C. 1979) and Howard Univ. v. District of Columbia, 81 U.S. App. D.C. 40, 155 F.2d 10, cert. denied, 329 U.S. 739, 91 L. Ed. 638, 67 S. Ct. 53 (1946). Identical statutory language was under review in Catholic University. There, the question was whether a concurrence of use and ownership of the property was required for the exemption. Catholic Univ., 397 A.2d at 918. The court determined that a regulation which required concurrence of ownership and use by the organization seeking the exemption under D.C. Code 47-801 (a)(j) D.C. Code 47-801 (a)(j) is identical to D.C. Code 47-1002 (10), the statutory provision under consideration in this case. (pertaining to exemptions for buildings "belonging to and operated by schools, colleges, or universities") to be inconsistent with the statutory language as interpreted by the court in Catholic Home, supra, and Trustees of St. Paul Methodist Episcopal Church South v. District of Columbia, 94 U.S. App. D.C. 78, 83 n.6, 212 F.2d 244, 249 n.6 (1954) Both these cases were binding on the court under M.A.P. v. Ryan, 285 A.2d 310 (D.C. 1971). Catholic University does not reject the disjunctive reading of this section, although it mentions that the conjunctive interpretation under the regulation would not be "necessarily inconsistent with the statute." 397 A.2d at 919. A portion of the property was held not to be exempt in Catholic University not because Catholic University was not the sole owner and user, but because it had rented a portion of the property to a profit-making entity. Id. at 917, 922. The portion of the property leased by Catholic University to another non-profit school was held to be tax exempt, while the portion leased to a profit-making entity was disqualified for the exemption. Id. Thus, Catholic University does not support the proposition that the court has rejected the disjunctive reading of subsection (10). Nor does Howard Univ., supra, support the District's argument. the issue in Howard University was not a general school exemption, but a special statute which exempted the property of Howard University provided it was "used only for the purposes set forth in the charter," specifically, "the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences." Howard Univ., 81 U.S. App. D.C. at 40, 155 F.2d at 10. In summary, the meaning of 47-1002 (10) is not clear with reference only to its language. the courts have found the evident ambiguity in the language, and therefore, resorted to the legislative history and rules of statutory construction to ascertain its meaning and to effectuate its purpose. Considering the legislative history of the statute, the court has rejected the requirement of reading the statute in the conjunctive and requiring concurrence of use and ownership in the same non-profit school entity to qualify for the exemption under D.C. Code 47-1002 (10). In recognizing that the word "and" may be interpreted in the disjunctive, we do not mean to suggest that an entity can qualify for tax exemption simply by meeting either prong of the particular exemption provision. For example, there could be no exemption under 1002 (10) where a profit-making entity owns the property, but leases it to a qualifying school not organized or operated for private gain. On the contrary, as will be discussed infra, to qualify for the exemption under discussion, both entities must come within the classes of property intended for exemption under 47-1002, even if not the identical provision.