SEMECO Industries, Inc. v. Auditing Div. of Utah State Tax Com'n

Decision Date01 April 1993
Docket NumberNo. 900494,900494
Citation849 P.2d 1167
CourtUtah Supreme Court

R. Paul Van Dam, Atty. Gen., Rick Carlton, Asst. Atty. Gen., Salt Lake City, for Tax Com'n.

Alan D. Boyack, St. George, and Matthew Hilton, Spanish Fork, for SEMECO.

HOWE, Associate Chief Justice:

SEMECO Industries, Inc., seeks review of the denial of its application for a certificate of sales tax exemption which it sought from the Utah State Tax Commission. In its application, SEMECO asserted that it was both a religious institution and a charitable institution, exempt from sales tax under Utah Code Ann. § 59-12-104(8) (Supp.1991).

SEMECO is a Utah nonprofit corporation. Its name is an acronym for Seventh- day Adventist Educational, Manufacturing, Engineering Company. The La Verkin, Utah, Seventh-day Adventist Church founded SEMECO in 1983 to provide jobs for local members and to raise money for a church school. Initially, SEMECO's principal economic activity was keeping bees and making bee boxes. Over the years, it has also become involved in providing various community and welfare services, such as a transient shelter, job opportunities, day-care and retirement centers, smoking cessation clinics, and educational seminars in cooking, arts and crafts, gardening, and health. These services were utilized primarily by members of the La Verkin Seventh-day Adventist congregation, although others occasionally participated. It charged nominal fees for some of the clinics and seminars, and it also expected those benefiting from the transient shelter and the retirement center to help defray costs, either in cash or through service in kind.

Until 1988, the La Verkin Seventh-day Adventist Church controlled and operated SEMECO as an auxiliary church school industry, allowing it to use the same Utah sales tax exemption number assigned to the La Verkin church and to all Seventh-day Adventist congregations in Utah. On January 26, 1988, SEMECO severed its formal relationship with the La Verkin church. The severance took place under pressure from the Nevada-Utah Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, apparently because the conference leaders hoped to distance the La Verkin church and the Nevada-Utah Conference from a lawsuit that threatened SEMECO. After the severance, however, individual Seventh-day Adventists in La Verkin continued to operate SEMECO, intending it to function as an "independent ministry" of the Seventh-day Adventist world church organization, unaffiliated with the local church or the regional conference. SEMECO's postseverance operation included twice-weekly worship services on Sabbaths and Tuesdays in addition to the same economic and welfare activities it had pursued before severance.

SEMECO applied to the Auditing Division of the Utah State Tax Commission for its own sales tax exemption, pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 59-12-104(8). The Division denied the application, and SEMECO appealed the denial to the Commission. Before the Commission, the Auditing Division argued that SEMECO was neither a religious nor a charitable institution and that even if it were a qualified institution, its sales were not made in the conduct of its regular religious or charitable activities as required by section 59-12-104(8).

At the formal hearing before the Commission, the hearing officer and a commissioner questioned SEMECO's representative about its affiliation with other divisions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and heard evidence about the extent to which SEMECO received or expected to receive some benefit in exchange for its charitable services. The Commission concluded that because SEMECO was not recognized by other Seventh-day Adventist groups and because its charitable activities "[were] not generally available to the public as a whole" and were not performed "without the expectation of gain," SEMECO was neither a religious nor a charitable institution. The Commission did not address whether SEMECO's sales were made in the conduct of its regular religious or charitable activities.

SEMECO contends that the Commission erred in determining that it was not a religious institution within the meaning of section 59-12-104(8). In its opening brief, it asserts that the actions of the Commission violated the United States and Utah Constitutions and served to "impede the ability of SEMECO and its members to express and exercise their religious beliefs" by denying it a sales tax exemption. Brief reference is made to three cases in support of those arguments.

We find no error in the Commission's denial. SEMECO was originally organized as a nonprofit corporation to operate an auxiliary church school industry. It used the sales tax exemption of the La Verkin church of which it was an auxiliary. After its severance from the church in 1988, it did not change the basic nature of its purpose and operation. It represented to the Commission that following the severance SEMECO continued its work "with the same principles, the same aims and everything about it the same." Thus, SEMECO remained an industry as before. It kept bees and made bee boxes, maintained a transient shelter, and provided education and training in cooking, arts and crafts, gardening, and other temporal matters. It did not attempt to duplicate or supplant the spiritual program of the La Verkin church to which all of SEMECO's members belonged.

Before the Commission, SEMECO claimed to be a religious organization because it was an independent ministry of the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, without any affiliation with or connection to the La Verkin church of which it had been an auxiliary. It asserted that it could be an independent ministry by simply complying with certain guidelines promulgated by the world church and that no approval or acceptance was required by the world church. The guidelines were put into evidence. However, on cross-examination, SEMECO's president admitted that it had not complied with guideline 11, which requires that "the independent ministry will have on its guiding board or committee at least some individuals who currently represent the organized Seventh-Day Adventist Church." Thus it was clear that SEMECO had not fully complied with the guidelines, and the Commission had no alternative but to deny its application. SEMECO had formally applied to the world church to be recognized as an industry, but that application had not yet been acted upon.

SEMECO did not claim before the Commission, and does not claim before this court, that it is a religious institution in "its own right," unconnected to or unaffiliated with any other organization. It has always claimed to be part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church family. Indeed, it has no separate congregation from the La Verkin church; it has no separate creed, practices, or doctrine; and its members pay their tithes to the La Verkin church, not to SEMECO. While SEMECO does hold some separate worship services, the president explained that they are held for the benefit of its members who cannot attend the regular La Verkin church meetings. In no way did SEMECO claim or demonstrate that it is an independent, unaffiliated religious organization.

The Commission concluded by stating, "Nor is the fact that [SEMECO] conducts weekly prayer meetings and services for its membership sufficient to convert [SEMECO] from a business organization into a religious institution for purposes of the Sales Tax Act." We agree. Before its severance from the La Verkin church, SEMECO was an auxiliary of that church. After its severance, SEMECO continued as it had in the past. Nothing changed, according to its leader. Thus, the Commission did not err in concluding that the severance had not changed its character or converted it from a church industry auxiliary into a religious organization. SEMECO offered no generally recognized or accepted definition of "religious organization" with which its activities would comply. 1

We do not reach the issue of whether SEMECO qualified as a charitable institution. Only vague references are made to this issue in SEMECO's brief. No authorities are cited, and the argument and analysis are entirely inadequate. We therefore decline to consider the issue. State v. Wareham, 772 P.2d 960, 966 (Utah 1989); State v. Amicone, 689 P.2d 1341, 1344 (Utah 1984). What a "charity" is under our case law is much too complex for us to decide without adequate briefing and analysis. See Utah County v. Intermountain Health Care, 709 P.2d 265, 269 (Utah 1985).


HALL, C.J., and STEWART and ZIMMERMAN, JJ., concur.

DURHAM, Justice, dissenting:

I respectfully dissent. The Tax Commission erred both in denying SEMECO a sales tax exemption as a charitable institution and in denying SEMECO an exemption as a religious institution. I would therefore vacate the Commission's rulings and remand for further consideration.


SEMECO challenges the Tax Commission's determinations as abuses of discretion, as erroneous interpretations or applications of the law, and as violations of the state and federal constitutions. Before I address the merits of these claims, I believe an extensive consideration of the standards of review for each of the challenges is appropriate.

A. Impact of UAPA

Because SEMECO seeks relief from an agency adjudication commenced after January 1, 1988, the Utah Administrative Procedures Act, Utah Code Ann. §§ 63-46b-1 to -22 (UAPA), governs review of the Tax Commission's determinations. See Utah Code Ann. § 63-46b-22(1) (Supp.1992). Section 63-46b-16 of UAPA prescribes the circumstances under which a reviewing court may grant relief to a party challenging final agency action based on a formal UAPA adjudication. Subsection (4) of this section provides that relief shall be granted only if the reviewing court determines that the aggrieved ...

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