NRA Special Contribution Fund v. Board of County Com'rs

Decision Date12 September 1978
Docket NumberNo. 3222,3222
PartiesNRA SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION FUND, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Defendant-Appellant, and State of New Mexico ex rel. Property Tax Department, Defendant-Intervenor- Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico
Toney Anaya, Atty. Gen., John C. Cook, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for defendant-intervenor-appellant

SUTIN, Judge.

Plaintiff, an arm of the National Rifle Association of America, brought suit for a refund of 1976 property taxes paid and to have its real estate exempt from taxation under Article VIII, § 3 of New Mexico's Constitution. Judgment was entered for plaintiff and defendants appeal. We reverse.

The trial court made the following pertinent findings of fact:

1. The NRA Special Contribution Fund is a Trust and nonprofit association organized by adoption of a constitution and by-laws on April 2, 1973. The said Trust was established for charitable, educational and scientific purposes under Section 501C-3 (§ 501(c)(3)) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, as amended, and received designation and approval as a Section 501C-3 (§ 501(c)(3)) organization on April 30, 1974.

6. The real estate, equipment and personal property which is the subject matter of the assessment for ad valorem taxes in Colfax County for the year 1976, was used, at all pertinent times, by the Plaintiff for:

(a) Teaching of survival and conservation schools, camps and training, to the general public, with instruction provided by Wilderness Institutes, universities, U.S. Soil Conservation Service, State Game and Fish Departments, National Park Services, and other professional instructors.

(b) Outdoor education leadership workshops under sponsorship of universities, for credit hours, open to college level teachers of the general public.

(c) Training of national guard units within the State of New Mexico for firearms training, and maneuver areas.

(d) Archeological and historic tours, re-enactments, and participation, with special emphasis on history of the Santa Fe Trail, and primitive skills.

(e) Law enforcement training by colleges, and other professional organizations such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

(f) Group training sessions for law enforcement organizations, including the New Mexico State Police, area police, and the New Mexico State Game and Fish Department.

(g) Approved metallic silhouette shoots and trainings, and competition training for black powder shoots, all open to the public.

(h) Miscellaneous other educational purposes.

7. The operations of the said properties are supported by contributions made nation wide and solicited for the specific purposes of the properties use in Colfax County, New Mexico, and the revenue earned from the events on the property is substantially less than the costs and operational expenses involved.

9. The uses of the property for the purposes hereinabove described are substantial and primary, and the non-educational uses to which the property has been placed and is intended to be utilized, is minimal or non-existent.

11. The Plaintiff is entitled to a refund of $1,295.07 together with interest thereon and such other relief as set forth by statute for 1976 ad valorem taxes.

Defendants challenged findings Nos. 6, 9 and 11.

The sole issue on this appeal is whether plaintiff's property is "used for educational purposes."

Article VIII, § 3 reads in pertinent part:

(A)ll property used for educational . . . purposes . . . shall be exempt from taxation.

Section 72-29-3(B), N.M.S.A.1953 (Repl.Vol. 10, pt. 2, 1975 Supp.) of the Property Tax Code provides that property exempt under the state constitution is not subject to valuation for property taxation purposes.


Plaintiff's trust owns 36,300 acres of land in Colfax County, purchased by the national organization and deeded to plaintiff. In the deed of conveyance there was no provision or limitation as to the use or purpose for which the land could be used. Plaintiff claimed all of its property was exempt and did not specify any specific acreage that was exempt nor furnish any evidence of such exempt acreage.

There is no capital stock issued, no dividends are declared, no pecuniary return is derived by trust beneficiaries from any of its operations, nor are there guaranteed benefits of any kind. Its revenues are derived almost entirely from contributions made nationally from thousands of individuals interested in promoting the educational, scientific and charitable goals of the trust.

The only witness to testify was the managing director of the NRA, National Range and Outdoor Center, who explained the various activities of plaintiff.

In a survival leadership training school students from all over the country are taught both in the classroom and through field experience the basic techniques of human survival in a wilderness situation. In 1976 there were four survival schools, each one week in length.

A youth conservation training camp is a work-learning experience for students 16 to 18 years of age who are taught the basic principles of resource management.

At a Julian Smith Outdoor Leadership Workshop, secondary school teachers and community college teachers spend a week at the NRA facilities and can earn two hours credit from the University of New Mexico. Over one half of the property is utilized during this workshop. Basic shooting skills, techniques, and safety skills were taught in the firearm safety school.

Trinidad State Junior College of Trinidad, Colorado sponsored an archeological and historical tour to explain the Santa Fe Trail. This activity lasted one hour total. The premises were also used for a Santa Fe Trail Mountain Men Rendezvous which involved people from all walks of life who sought to recreate the techniques, skills and the aroma of the mountain men of the 1840's. One such event is held each year. In 1976, 45 participated; in 1977, 70 participated.

NRA plans for and is building an outdoor center.

During the year 1976, the property was used by national guard units along with local guard units for firearms qualification training. The property was used for educational courses in law enforcement by the F.B.I. for a two-day course, by the Trinidad State Junior College that has a special program of police training in which it offers an associate degree in the police service. It was also used by the New Mexico State Police, by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and by New Mexico Mounted Patrol. These entities used the property for regional black powder shoots, formalized target shooting, public service programs, metallic silhouette shoots for the public, and national hunting and fishing day for conservation.

In 1976, although there were 2,700 applicants, five persons hunted turkey and thirteen persons hunted elk, and were recommended by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department.

In 1975, the year before, firearm training was the primary and substantial use of the property. In 1976, there were 266 user days for university or college seminars. By "user day" is meant the number of persons that were present in conjunction with a college credit course or seminar operated by a recognized institution of higher learning that participated in some or all of one-day use of property of the Outdoor Center.

There are no full-time teachers. There are two part-time teachers, and two full-time employees.

Plaintiff is exempt from federal income tax under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This section exempts from taxation "Corporations . . . organized and operated exclusively for . . . charitable, scientific . . . or educational purposes . . . no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual . . . ." 26 U.S.C.A., Internal Revenue Code, § 501(c)(3) (1977 Pocket Part).

A. Meaning of "used for educational purposes."

The Constitution, the Property Tax Code and New Mexico opinions do not define what is meant by "used for educational purposes." As a result, the Legislature has seen fit to allow the courts to establish the standards under which property may be determined to be tax exempt when "used for educational purposes." We are confronted with the phrase that has broad significance. Its meaning is a matter of first impression in New Mexico.

Nearly 50 years ago, Mr. Justice Watson posed the difficulty of the problem in Temple Lodge No. 6, A. F. & A. M. v. Tierney, 37 N.M. 178, 20 P.2d 280 (1933). The property of a Masonic lodge was held charitable. In the course of the opinion, Justice Watson said:

The broad expression "used for educational or charitable purposes" necessarily imposes upon the courts a severe task of interpretation. It is easy to instance purposes clearly within it. It is not difficult to suggest instances which would reduce to absurdity a rule too liberal. Appellees (Tierney, treasurer and collector of Bernalillo County) point out that the ordinary home is customarily used for educational purposes and often for charitable purposes. In a broad sense, a golf professional, a riding master, or a boxing instructor, is engaged in education. Charity may "cover a multitude of sins." The line of demarcation cannot be projected. It can take shape only by the gradual process of adjudicating this or that purpose or use on the one side of it or on the other, or by change in the constitutional criteria. (37 N.M. at 187, 20 P.2d at 284, 285.) (Emphasis added.)

For almost half a century, our courts have followed the dictates of Strict construction, Berger, et ux. v. University of New Mexico, et al., 28 N.M. 666, 217 P. 245 (1923); Peisker v. Unemployment Compensation Commission, 45 N.M. 307, 115 P.2d 62 (1941); McKee v. Bureau of Revenue, 63 N.M. 185, 315 P.2d 832 (1957),...

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