655 A.2d 876 (Me. 1995), CUM-94-336, Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc. v. Town of Harrison

Docket Nº:Law Docket No. CUM-94-336.
Citation:655 A.2d 876
Opinion Judge:DANA,
Party Name:CAMPS NEWFOUND/OWATONNA, INC. v. TOWN OF HARRISON et al. Decision No. 7163.
Attorney:William H. Dale, Emily A. Bloch (orally), Jensen, Baird, Gardner & Henry, Portland, for plaintiff. William L. Plouffe (orally), Drummond, Woodsum, Plimpton & MacMahon, Portland, for defendant.
Judge Panel:Before WATHEN, C.J., and ROBERTS, GLASSMAN, CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, and DANA, JJ.
Case Date:March 07, 1995
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 876

655 A.2d 876 (Me. 1995)

CAMPS NEWFOUND/OWATONNA, INC.

v.

TOWN OF HARRISON et al.

Decision No. 7163.

Law Docket No. CUM-94-336.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

March 7, 1995

Argued Oct. 31, 1994.

Page 877

William H. Dale, Emily A. Bloch (orally), Jensen, Baird, Gardner & Henry, Portland, for plaintiff.

William L. Plouffe (orally), Drummond, Woodsum, Plimpton & MacMahon, Portland, for defendant.

Before WATHEN, C.J., and ROBERTS, GLASSMAN, CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, and DANA, JJ.

DANA, Justice.

The Town of Harrison 1 appeals from a summary judgment (Cumberland County, Lipez, J.) in favor of Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc., a Maine nonprofit corporation, declaring that Maine's property tax exemption statute, 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1)(A)(1) (Supp.1994), violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Camps cross appeals the court's denial of its constitutional challenge based upon the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution and the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and Maine Constitutions. Because we find the statute constitutional, we vacate the judgment and remand for entry of a summary judgment for the Town. 2

Camps operates a summer camp in Harrison for children of the Christian Science faith. In April 1992, by a letter to the Harrison Board of Assessors, 3 Camps demanded a tax refund for 1989 through 1991 and a continuing tax exemption pursuant to Maine's charitable tax exemption statute, 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1)(A)(1) (Supp.1994). The statute denies property tax exemptions, otherwise available, to nonprofit institutions that are "in fact conducted or operated principally for persons who are not residents of Maine and [make] charges that result in an average weekly rate per person ... in excess of $30." 4 Between 1989 and 1992, approximately 95% of the campers were out-of-state residents, most of whom paid weekly fees ranging from $370 to $445. Following the refusal of the Board of Assessors to grant the exemption in June 1992, Camps filed its complaint in the Superior Court challenging the board's decision and in April 1993 moved for a summary judgment on its constitutional claims.

Page 878

Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and the moving party "is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." M.R.Civ.P. 56(c). We review the evidence before the Court in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted to determine if the trial court committed an error of law. Dube v. Homeowners Assistance Corp., 628 A.2d 1040, 1041 (Me.1993). "All legislative enactments are presumed constitutional, and the party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears the burden of proof. This presumption, however, is not absolute; legislation which violates an express mandate of the constitution is invalid even though it is expedient or is otherwise in the public interest." Maine Beer & Wine Wholesalers v. State, 619 A.2d 94, 97 (Me.1993) (citations omitted); see also Spiller v. State, 627 A.2d 513, 515 (Me.1993). "[S]tatutes ... will be construed, where possible, to preserve their constitutionality [and the] ... party attacking the constitutionality of a state statute ... carries a heavy burden of persuasion." Maine Milk Producers v. Commissioner of Agric., 483 A.2d 1213, 1218 (Me.1984) (citations omitted); see Eastler v. State Tax Assessor, 499 A.2d 921, 925 (Me.1985). A statute's unconstitutionality "must be established to such a degree of certainty as to leave no room for reasonable doubt." Orono-Veazie Water Dist. v. Penobscot City Water Co., 348 A.2d 249, 253 (Me.1975); e.g., Small v. Gartley, 363 A.2d 724, 732 (Me.1976).

Commerce Clause

The Commerce Clause by its terms grants authority to Congress to "regulate Commerce ... among the several States." U.S. Constitution, Art. I, § 8, cl. 3. It has long been interpreted to forbid the States from discriminating against interstate trade. Associated Indus. of Missouri v. Lohman, 511 U.S. 641, ---- - ----, 114 S.Ct. 1815, 1819-22, 128 L.Ed.2d 639 (1994). This prohibition is often referred to as the "dormant" or "negative" Commerce Clause. The Superior Court found that the exemption statute violates this dormant...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP