First Universalist Soc. v. Bradford

Decision Date30 March 1904
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Frederic B. Greenhalge, Asst. Atty. Gen., for Treasurer.

Wm. H Rollins, for First Universalist Soc. in Salem.



Walter S. Dickson, by his last will and testament, which was duly admitted to probate in June, 1900, devised to the First Universalist Society in Salem a parcel of land, 'with the dwelling house and outbuildings thereon (the same being used and occupied by me as a homestead) to be used and occupied only as a parsonage for said Church, and for the same purpose I give said Church all the carpets in my said homestead and all the furniture therein not otherwise disposed of by me.' The Treasurer of the Commonwealth claims that a succession tax is due on this devise and bequest under St 1891, p. 1028, c. 425, § 1, now Rev. Laws, c. 15, § 1. The devisee claims that the devise and bequest come within the clause excepting from the operation of the act property which shall pass 'to or for the use of charitable, educational or religious societies or institutions the property of which is by law exempt from taxation.'

This clause of exemption does not find in our statutes the counterpart which its language would lead one to expect. There is no clause in the general laws exempting the property of charitable, educational, and religious societies or institutions from taxation. More than that, there is no clause which in terms exempts the property of charitable and educational institutions from taxation. The only act in June, 1900, which applied to charitable and educational institutions, was St. 1889, p. 1211, c. 465, now Rev. Laws, c. 12,§ 5, cl. 3. That act applies to 'literary, benevolent, charitable and scientific institutions and temperance societies,' and provides that the personal property of such institutions and societies incorporated within the commonwealth, and the real estate belonging to them and occupied by them or their officers for the purpose for which they were incorporated, shall be exempt, with a proviso that none of the real or personal estate of such corporations shall be exempt 'when any portion of the income or profits of the business of such corporations is divided among their members or stockholders or used or appropriated for other than literary, educational, benevolent, charitable, scientific or religious purposes.' Where the income of property is used to support the institution, the property of such institutions is exempt under the act when invested in personal securities, but is taxable when invested in real estate. The property of religious societies did not come within this act, but was dealt with by Pub. St. c. 11, § 5, cl. 7, now Rev. Laws, c. 12, § 5, cl. 7. That clause provides that 'houses of religious worship owned by a religious society or held in trust for the use of religious organizations, and the pews and furniture except for parochial purposes,' shall be exempt. Both the personal and real property of a religious society is taxable, even although the income is used to support religious worship (see Pub. St. c. 11, § 22, now Rev. Laws, c. 12, § 25; Trustees of Greene Foundation v. Boston, 12 Cush. 54; Boston Society of Redemptorist Fathers v. Boston, 129 Mass. 178); and this applies to real estate used as a parsonage (Third Congregational Society of Springfield v. Springfield, 147 Mass. 396, 18 N.E. 68).

The contention of the Treasurer is that the exemption clause in question is to be construed to provide that property which...

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