Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. Ada County, LATTER-DAY

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation123 Idaho 410,849 P.2d 83
Docket NumberLATTER-DAY,No. 19087,19087
PartiesIn the Matter of the Appeal of the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from the Order of the Board of Equalization of Ada County For 1987. The CORPORATION OF the PRESIDING BISHOP OF the CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OFSAINTS, Petitioner-Respondent, v. ADA COUNTY, Idaho; Ada County Assessor; Board of Equalization, Respondents-Appellants. Boise, December 1992 Term
Decision Date26 February 1993

Greg H. Bower, Ada County Pros. Atty. and Eric T. Krening, Deputy Pros. Atty., Boise, for respondents-appellants. Eric T. Krening, argued.

Moffatt, Thomas, Barrett, Rock & Fields, Boise, and Kirton, McConkie & Poelm, Salt Lake City, UT, for petitioner-respondent. David M. McConkie, argued.

McDEVITT, Chief Justice.


The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a Utah Corporation sole, incorporated to purchase and sell property for the Church, pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 16-7-1. The CPB qualifies as a charitable entity under I.R.C. 501(c)(3). The CPB owns a parcel of land in Boise improved with a two-story, five-bedroom home used as the residence of the president of the Idaho Boise Mission and his wife. The property has enjoyed tax-exempt status since its purchase in 1979 until 1987. The mission president is an ordained lay minister who is unpaid and usually serves three years. The service is full-time, and requires the president to give up his present home and job for the interim. In this leadership role, the president serves the spiritual and physical needs of 157 full-time lay missionaries. The missionaries volunteer for two unpaid years of service, financed by themselves, their families or other church members.

The president receives a living allowance, subsidizing his expenses from his personal funds. He receives no vacation during his three-year term. The president usually puts in seventeen hours a day, seven days a week, as administrator, counselor, nurse, teacher, preacher, and guide for the missionaries. He considers his primary responsibility to be the spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being of the missionaries serving under him. The missionaries reside where they are assigned, anywhere In addition to its use as the president's residence, the property is used to house missionaries from around the world for a few days before and after their missions and when they are too sick to stay in their normal accommodations. The home is used for interviews and for meetings with church leaders. The president conducts most of his administrative functions from a mission office on Vista Avenue in Boise, Idaho. The residence is being challenged as a property which does not qualify as a parsonage under I.C. § 63-105B, or as charitable use property under I.C. § 63-105C. 1

[123 Idaho 414] from LaGrande, Oregon, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and from Riggins, Idaho, to Jackpot, Nevada. No other church person is authorized to be the ecclesiastical leader of the missionaries. The president holds worship services with the missionaries in a different area each week. Most of the services are held in church buildings, with some in the subject home. The missionaries attend worship services regularly at their local meetinghouse, presided over by the local bishop, and never all congregate in one location. Every missionary either visits the president or is visited by him at least monthly.

The title ordinarily given to LDS ministers who preside over congregations is "bishop." In general, LDS bishops do not work full-time for the church. Instead, they have other jobs and also own their own homes. The people who make up the bishop's congregation are generally families, elderly couples, and some singles, all of which typically pursue outside careers. The average congregation in Idaho exists within a relatively small geographically contiguous area. Members are free to attend other congregations, but may receive counseling and guidance only from their own bishop. The bishop of every congregation has a separate record of each member. The record follows the member when the member moves. When individuals go on missions, their membership records stay with their home bishop.

The County has no written guidelines or standards for determining when an ecclesiastical residence qualifies for tax exemption as a parsonage. If the assessors have a question about a religion's request for an exemption, they ask for an opinion from the prosecutor's office. Upon the recommendation of the prosecutor's office, Ada County denied the Mission Home a tax exemption in the year 1987, under I.C. §§ 63-105B and 63-105C. The decision was ratified by the Board of Tax Appeals, and the CPB appealed to the district court for de novo review. The case was tried June 25, 1990, and the district court granted the exemption under both I.C. §§ 63-105B and 63-105C. On appeal to this Court, we must resolve the following issues:

I. Whether the Mission President's home is a "parsonage" such that it qualifies for an ad valorem tax exemption under I.C. § 63-105B.

II. Whether the Mission President's home qualifies for an ad valorem tax exemption under I.C. § 63-105B, on the basis that it is used for any combination of religious worship, educational purposes and recreational activities.

III. Whether the Mission President's home qualifies for an ad valorem tax exemption under I.C. § 63-105C, as property owned by a charitable organization and

[123 Idaho 415] used exclusively for that organization's charitable purposes.


On appeal, the reviewing court will not disturb the district court's factual findings if supported by substantial and competent evidence. Evangelical Lutheran Good Sam. Soc. v. Board of Equalization of Latah County, 119 Idaho 126, 127, 804 P.2d 299, 300 (1991). However, this Court is not bound by the legal conclusions of the district court and is free to draw its own conclusion from the facts presented. Clark v. St. Paul Property & Liab. Ins. Cos., 102 Idaho 756, 757, 639 P.2d 454, 455 (1981).

Specifically, the questions of law in this case involve statutory interpretation. Under Article II, § 1, Article III §§ 1 and 15, and Article V, §§ 2 and 13 of the Idaho Constitution, it is solely the province of the legislature to make laws and the duty of the Court to construe them and, if a law, as construed by the court, is to be changed, that is a legislative not a judicial function. Mead v. Arnell, 117 Idaho 660, 667, 791 P.2d 410, 417 (1990); In re Speer, 53 Idaho 293, 23 P.2d 239 (1933).

This Court has consistently adhered to the primary canon of statutory construction that where the language of the statute is unambiguous, the clear expressed intent of the legislature must be given effect and there is no occasion for construction. Ottesen v. Board of Commrs. of Madison County, 107 Idaho 1099, 1100, 695 P.2d 1238, 1239 (1985). Moreover, unless a contrary purpose is clearly indicated, ordinary words will be given their ordinary meaning when construing a statute. Bunt v. City of Garden City, 118 Idaho 427, 430, 797 P.2d 135, 138 (1990). In construing a statute, this Court will not deal in any subtle refinements of the legislation, but will ascertain and give effect to the purpose and intent of the legislature, based on the whole act and every word therein, lending substance and meaning to the provisions. George W. Watkins Family v. Messenger, 118 Idaho 537, 539-40, 797 P.2d 1385, 1387-88 (1990).

A. Statutory Construction

The constitution authorizes the legislature to "allow such exemptions from taxation from time to time as shall seem necessary and just...." Idaho Const. art. VII, § 5. This rather general empowerment was born after extensive debate at the Constitutional Convention on the matter of property tax exemptions. Constitutional Convention--art. VII, § 5, p. 1706. The Convention chose to quash language borrowed from Colorado's constitution specifically exempting all church properties, and several innovative substitutions therefor, in favor of the broad empowerment, indicating that the Convention clearly intended that the legislature should have the sole right to determine what property should be exempt from taxation, and not be constrained by definitive constitutional provisions. Simmons v. Idaho State Tax Comm'n, 111 Idaho 343, 723 P.2d 887 (1986); Achenbach v. Kincaid, 25 Idaho 768, 140 P. 529 (1914). Pursuant to the authority of art. VII, § 5, the legislature embarked on a dynamic, abiding course of prescribing limited ad valorem tax exemptions. It saw fit to carry over the language of the territorial statute exempting religious property into the law of the state until 1913, 2 at which time the legislature penned a revision. The statute has remained unchanged since then, codified as I.C. § 63-105B.

Idaho case law requires that all tax exemption statutes be strictly and narrowly construed against the taxpayer, who must show a clear entitlement, and in favor of the state. Courts may not presume exemptions, nor may they extend an exemption by judicial construction where not specifically authorized. Bistline v. Bassett, 47 Idaho 66, 71, 272 P. 696, 701 (1928). See also Bogus Basin Recreational Assoc., Inc. v. Boise County Bd. of Equalization, 118 Idaho 686, 799 P.2d 974 (1990); Canyon County Assessor v. Sunny Ridge Manor, Inc., 106 Idaho 98, 675 P.2d 813 (1984). The language of exemption statutes must be given its ordinary meaning and an exemption will not be sustained unless within the spirit as well as the letter of the law. Evangelical Lutheran Good Sam. Soc. v. Board of Equalization of Latah County, 119 Idaho 126, 129, 804 P.2d 299, 302 (1991).

Tax exemptions exist as a matter of legislative grace, epitomizing the antithesis of traditional democratic notions of fairness, equality,...

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