How to Determine Whether An Entity Qualifies As a ''Purely Public Charity'' ?
Our Supreme Court stated in Community Options, Inc. v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review, 571 Pa. 672, 676-77, 813 A.2d 680, 683 (2002):
An entity seeking a statutory exemption for taxation must first establish that it is a "purely public charity" under Article VIII, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution before the question of whether that entity meets the qualifications of a statutory exemption can be reached. G.D.L. Plaza Corp. v. Council Rock Sch. Dist., 515 Pa. 54, 526 A.2d 1173, 1175 (1987); Hospital Utilization Project v. Commonwealth, 507 Pa. 1, 13, 487 A.2d 1306, 1312 (1985).
In Hospital Utilization Project v. Commonwealth, 507 Pa. 1, 13, 487 A.2d 1306, 1312 (1985) the Court set forth a five-part test for determining whether an entity qualifies as a "purely public charity" under the Pennsylvania Constitution:
An entity qualifies as a purely public charity if it possesses the following characteristics.
(a) Advances a charitable purpose;
(b) Donates or renders gratuitously a substantial portion of its services;
(c) Benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects of charity;
(d) Relieves the government of some of its burden; and
(e) Operates entirely free from private profit motive. 487 A.2d at 1306.
The question of whether an entity is a "purely public charity" is a mixed question of law and fact on which the trial court's decision is binding absent an abuse of discretion or lack of supporting evidence. G.D.L. Plaza Corp., 526 A.2d at 1175, Hill Sch. Tax Exemption Case, 370 Pa. 21, 87 A.2d 259, 263 (1952).
Once an institution qualifies as a "purely public charity" under Article VIII, 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the next relevant question is whether it qualifies for tax exemption status under the Charity Act. Cmty. Options, 571 Pa. at 680, 813 A.2d at 685.
In this regard, our Supreme Court stated:
Section 372 of the Charity Act states that the intent of the Act is to provide "standards to be applied uniformly throughout this Commonwealth for determining eligibility for exemption from State and local taxation which are consistent with traditional legislative and judicial applications of the constitutional term 'institution of purely public charity.'" 10 P.S. 372(b).
Section 375(a) of the Charity Act, titled "Criteria for institutions of purely public charity", states that an institution of purely public charity is an institution that meets the criteria set forth in subsections (b), (c), (d), (e) and (f).
Each of the five subsections to which Section 375(a) refers has an opening sentence that tracks the language of one of the Hospital Utilization Project test prongs. 571 Pa. at 680-81, 813 A.2d at 685.