Murrow v. Bd. of Assessors of Bos., 21-P-776

CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtSINGH, J.
Docket Number21-P-776
Decision Date06 February 2023



No. 21-P-776

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

February 6, 2023

October 12, 2022

Appeal from a decision of the Appellate

Tax Board. Mark F. Murphy for the taxpayer.

Samantha H. Fuchs, Assistant Corporation Counsel, for board of assessors of Boston.

Present: Meade, Singh, & Walsh, JJ.


The question presented on appeal is whether the owner of an in gross parking easement reserved by a condominium developer in the condominium's master deed, which is freely transferable and not appurtenant to any condominium unit, may be directly taxed on the value of that interest pursuant to G. L. c. 59, § 11.


The taxpayer, Claudia Murrow, asserts that the answer is no; she argues that the city of Boston (city) cannot tax both the fee simple interest of the condominium, owned by the unit owners, and her easement interest in a parking space on the same land. Put another way, Murrow contends that the city is unlawfully taxing the same property twice. She now appeals from a decision of the Appellate Tax Board (board), which affirmed a decision of the board of assessors of Boston (assessors) denying Murrow's application for abatement of a tax assessed against her parking easement in fiscal year 2019; the board reasoned that Murrow's easement is a present interest in real estate and thus is subject to taxation pursuant to § 11. We agree and affirm the board's decision.


In November 1986, the Charles Bulfinch Condominium at 350 North Street in Boston was established pursuant to G. L. c. 183A by the recording of a master deed. The condominium consists of a nine-story, thirty-seven unit residential building with fifty-four parking spaces. The condominium's master deed contained all the particulars required by G. L. c. 183A, § 8, including "[a] description of the common areas and facilities and the proportionate interest of each unit therein." Paragraph 4(a) of the master deed provides that the developer reserves

"exclusive easements in gross for the parking of a motor vehicle in each such space and the right to pass and repass from each such parking space for the purpose of egress and exit. Such exclusive easements in gross are not appurtenant to any estate and may be freely assigned and alienated by Sponsor and those claiming by, through and under the Sponsor by reason of such assignment and alienation. Owners of such Easements in Gross shall pay the annual assessments as set forth in Article VI, Sec. 1 of the By-Laws."

The following year, in November 1987, Murrow paid the developer of the condominium $33,000 for a "perpetual and exclusive [e]asement in [g]ross to use parking space [number forty]."[1] Murrow's deed for the easement states that it was granted pursuant to paragraph 4(a) of the master deed and that it "is personal to the Grantees, their heirs, successors, and assigns, is unconnected to any other lands or estates, is perpetual, and is freely assignable, divisable, and alienable." The deed was recorded in January 1988 at the Suffolk County registry of deeds. Murrow's parking easement is her only interest at the condominium, as she is not a unit owner.

Thirty-one years later, in fiscal year 2019, the city assessed Murrow's easement as a present interest in real estate for the first time. The city appraised the easement at a value of $56,000 and issued Murrow a tax bill for $590.24. Murrow filed an abatement application for the bill, which was denied.


Murrow appealed that decision to the board. After an evidentiary hearing on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, the board issued written findings of fact pursuant to the board's own motion under G. L. c. 58A, § 13. The board affirmed the assessors' decision, reasoning that the Legislature's broad grant of authority to assessors under the plain language of G. L. c. 59, § 11, together with applicable case law, supports the conclusion that Murrow's easement is a present interest in real estate subject to taxation under § 11. This appeal followed.


1. Standard of review.

A decision by the board "will not be modified or reversed if the decision 'is based on both substantial evidence and a correct application of the law.'" New Cingular Wireless PCS LLC v. Commissioner of Revenue, 98 Mass.App.Ct. 346, 353 (2020), quoting Genentech, Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 476 Mass. 258, 261 (2017). Because the facts here are undisputed, we only consider whether the board correctly interpreted the law. See Rauseo v. Assessors of Boston, 94 Mass.App.Ct. 517, 519 (2018). Given that "the board is an agency charged with administering the tax law and has expertise in tax matters, we give weight to its interpretation of tax statutes" (citation omitted). Oracle USA, Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 487 Mass. 518, 522 (2021).


"Where the board's construction of a tax statute is reasonable, we will defer to its interpretation." Id.

2. Analysis.

We begin with the text of the statute, "the principal source of insight into [l]egislative purpose" (citation omitted). Dental Serv. of Mass., Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 479 Mass. 304, 306 (2018). In doing so, "[w]e adhere to the familiar principle that tax statutes are to be strictly construed; we will not read into a statute an authority to tax that it does not plainly confer" (citation omitted). Id.

General Laws c. 59, § 11, provides, in pertinent part, that "whenever the assessors deem it proper, they may assess taxes upon any present interest in real estate to the owner of such interest on January 1." The board found in its decision that the tax of Murrow's easement here is supported by the plain language of § 11, applicable precedent, and "fundamental notions of tax policy." We agree.

"The Massachusetts Constitution vests the authority to tax exclusively in the Legislature." Oracle USA, Inc., 487 Mass. at 525. For over two centuries, the Legislature has delegated the power to assess local property taxes to municipal authorities, such as the assessors here. See Verizon New England Inc. v. Assessors of Boston, 475 Mass. 826, 829 (2016), citing Opinion of the Justices, 378 Mass. 802, 810 &n.11 (1979). While it has long been the legislative policy of this Commonwealth "that all


To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT