Serra Retreat v. Los Angeles County

Decision Date18 August 1950
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Harold W. Kennedy, County Counsel, and Andrew O. Porter, Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, for appellant.

Joseph Scott and J. Howard Ziemann, Los Angeles, for respondent.

SPENCE, Justice.

Plaintiff brought this action to recover certain taxes paid under protest for the tax year 1946-1947. The question to be determined is the tax status of that portion of plaintiff's building, a retreat house, used as living quarters for four priests and six lay brothers who attend to the spiritual and temporal needs of laymen making the retreats. Plaintiff relies on the welfare tax exemption extended to 'property used exclusively for religious * * * or charitable purposes.' Cal. Const. art. XIII § 1c; Rev. § Tax. Code, § 214. The trial court sustained the exemption claim and overruled defendant's general demurrer to plaintiff's complaint. From the judgment accordingly entered in favor of plaintiff, defendant has appealed.

This case presents a problem somewhat similar to that discussed in the opinion this day filed in six consolidated hospital cases. Cedars of Lebanon Hospital v. County of Los Angeles, Cal.Sup., 221 P.2d 31, relative to the welfare exemption of hospital property used for nurses' homes and the housing of other alleged essential personnel. The considerations there determinative that such property was 'used exclusively for * * * hospital * * * purposes' within the concept of the welfare exemption likewise here prevail in support of plaintiff's claim to the exemption benefit. Thus it affirmatively appears from the allegations of plaintiff's complaint, which were admitted by the demurrer thereto, that use of the portion of the property for living accommodations for its priests and lay brothers is a use for a facility which is incidental to and reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of religious and charitable purposes. The trial court therefore properly awarded to plaintiff the tax relief here sought.

As appears from the complaint plaintiff, Serra Retreat, is a California religious corporation organized, owned and operated exclusively for religious and charitable purposes, and not for profit; no part of its net earnings, if any there be, inures to the benefit of any person or individual. It has been duly exempted from federal and state income, corporation, franchise, gift, estate, inheritance, social security and unemployment insurance taxes, and it has qualified as an institution entitled to welfare exemption status under the laws of this state. Rev. & Tax. Code, §§ 214, 251, 254, 254.5 and 259.5. The property known as Serra Retreat consists of a single edifice a retreat house which is allegedly operated 'for the sole and exclusive purpose of dispensing charity and providing a place of religious reflection to which all persons regardless of race, color or creed may come to spend time' in religious meditation and to make a 'layman's religious retreat' for the purpose of gaining 'spiritual benefits and improvement of character.' A layman's retreat lasts for 'fifty hours,' during which time 'religious exercises and instructions are conducted by the Franciscan Fathers' and for the entire period 'it is required as part of the religious activity that all retreatants remain constantly on the property, without radios, newspapers, telephone calls or visitors, and that they keep complete and absolute silence so as to be able to mdeitate upon the religious instructions and exercises without distraction or interruption.' Retreats are regularly given over weekends as well as at various times during the week, and the retreat house is 'open to the public at any and all times for use as a place of religious worship and meditation.' No charge is made for the use of the retreat house or for the board and room received by anyone in connection therewith; rather as a religious institution, it 'is supported entirely by voluntary, confidential offerings.'

The retreat house consists of a two-story and basement building with housing accommodations for fifty-five lay retreatants, four Roman Catholic Franciscan priests, and six Franciscan lay brothers; in addition to chapel, library, kitchen, dining-rooms, laundry and service quarters. It is further alleged that the persence of said priests and lay brothers on the retreat property is 'essential, indispensable and necessary' in carrying out the regular retreat schedule in that (1) the 'sermons, meditations and religious services are given and conducted by said priests alternately,' who 'live on (the retreat) property so as to participate in and prepare and be available for' the prescribed religious activities in ministering to 'the spiritual needs of' the lay retreatants; and (2) all 'cooking, housekeeping, laundry, garden and maintenance work in and around (the) retreat house' is done by said lay brothers in caring for 'the temporal needs of' the lay retreatants using the retreat facilites. Neither the priests nor the lay brothers receive any 'remuneration whatsoever for their services...

To continue reading

Request your trial
23 cases
  • San Francisco Boys' Club, Inc. v. Mendocino County
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 21, 1967 a whole must be examined in determining the tax status of property for the welfare exemption.' (Serra Retreat v. County of L.A. (1950) 35 Cal.2d 755, 758, 221 P.2d 59, 61, following Cedars of Lebanon Hospital v. County of Los Angeles (1950) 35 Cal.2d 729, 734--736, 221 P.2d 31, 15 A.L.R.......
  • United States v. County of Fresno
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 25, 1977
    ...School v. County of Alameda, 152 Cal.App.2d 496, 314 P.2d 209 (1957) (college-level private school); Serra Retreat v. County of Los Angeles, 35 Cal.2d 755, 221 P.2d 59 (1950), and Saint Germain Foundation v. County of Siskiyou, 212 Cal.App.2d 911, 28 Cal.Rptr. 393 (1963) (religious 8. "The ......
  • Stockton Civic Theatre v. Board of Supervisors, San Joaquin County
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 21, 1966
    ...Francisco, 211 Cal. 387, 390, 295 P. 813; Bay Cities Transp. Co. v. Johnson, 8 Cal.2d 706, 711-712, 68 P.2d 710; Serra Retreat v. County of L.A., 35 Cal.2d 755, 758, 221 P.2d 59.) Any constitutional or statutory provision for a tax-exemption is to be strictly but reasonably construed. (Ceda......
  • Samarkand of Santa Barbara, Inc. v. Santa Barbara County
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 20, 1963 a whole must be examined in determining the tax status of property for the welfare exemption.' Serra Retreat v. County of Los Angeles, 35 Cal.2d 755, 758, 221 P.2d 59, 60.' This is a well settled principle which is stated in numerous cases, including Cedars of Lebanon Hosp. v. County of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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