St. Louis Young Men's Christian Ass'n v. Gehner, 31698

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Citation47 S.W.2d 776,329 Mo. 1007
Docket Number31698
PartiesThe St. Louis Young Men's Christian Association, Appellant, v. Fred Gehner, as Assessor of the City of St. Louis, et al
Decision Date15 March 1932

Appeal from Circuit Court of City of St. Louis; Hon. Arthur H Bader, Judge.


Daniel N. Kirby, Harry W. Kroeger, Joseph W. Lewis, George C Mackay and Wilbur B. Jones for appellant.

(1) Missouri constitutional and statutory provisions exempt from taxation property used exclusively for religious worship, for schools, or for purposes purely charitable. Mo. Constitution Art. X, Sec. 6; R. S. 1929, sec. 9743. (a) These constitutional and statutory provisions must be reasonably construed. State ex rel. v. Johnston, 214 Mo. 656. (b) The phrase "used exclusively" has reference to the primary and inherent use as over against a mere secondary and incidental use. State ex rel. v. Johnston, 214 Mo. 656. (c) Charity in the legal sense is not confined to mere almsgiving, or the relief of poverty and distress, but has a wider signification which embraces the improvement and promotion of the happiness of men. 11 C. J. 300; 19 C. J. 1014; 5 R. C. L. 291; Buchanan v. Kennard, 234 Mo. 137; Mo. Historical Society v. Academy of Science, 94 Mo. 466; Jackson v. Phillips, 14 Allen, 556; In re Estate of Jacob Rahn, 316 Mo. 511; Robinson v. Crutcher, 277 Mo. 8; Catron v. Scarritt Collegiate Inst., 264 Mo. 727; Crow ex rel. v. Clay Co., 196 Mo. 259, 260; Chambers v. St. Louis, 29 Mo. 584; Barkley v. Donnelly, 112 Mo. 561; Sandusky v. Sandusky, 261 Mo. 358; St. George's Church Soc. v. Branch, 120 Mo. 238; Cummings v. Dent, 189 S.W. 1161, 1162; Hayes v. Barrett, 319 Mo. 639; Lackland v. Walker, 151 Mo. 241. (2) State ex rel. St. Louis Y. M. C. A. v. Gehner, 11 S.W.2d 30, because it was decided upon a special state of facts not now in existence, does not govern this case. (3) A charitable institution does not lose its charitable character and its consequent exemption from taxation by the fact that it receives some revenues from its activities where the funds so derived are devoted to its maintenance and applied exclusively to the charitable purposes of the institution and not for private gain. State ex rel. v. Powers, 10 Mo.App. 263 (affirmed in 74 Mo. 476); State ex rel. v. Johnston, 214 Mo. 656; Hot Springs School Dist. v. Sisters of Mercy, 84 Ark. 497, 106 S.W. 954; Cathedral of St. John v. Denver, 37 Colo. 378, 86 P. 1021; Brewer v. Missionary Assn., 124 Ga. 490, 52 S.E. 804; Waycross v. Waycross Sav. etc. Co., 90 S.E. 382; School of Domestic Arts & Science v. Carr, 322 Ill. 562, 153 N.E. 669; Congregational S. S. & Pub. Soc. v. Board of Review, 290 Ill. 108, 125 N.E. 7; Sisters of Third Order v. Board of Review, 231 Ill. 317, 83 N.E. 272; German Hospital v. Board of Review, 233 Ill. 246, 84 N.E. 215; Proctor Hospital v. Board of Review, 233 Ill. 583, 84 N.E. 618; Nuns of Third Order v. Younkin, 118 Kan. 554, 235 P. 869; Ky. Female Orphan School v. Louisville, 100 Ky. 470, 36 S.W. 921; Morgan v. Presbyterian Church, 31 Ky. L. Rep. 38, 101 S.W. 338; Dayton v. Speers Hospital, 165 Ky. 56, 176 S.W. 361; State ex rel. v. Board of Assessors, 52 La. Ann. 223, 26 So. 872; W. E. Sanatorium v. Stoneham, 205 Mass. 335, 91 N.E. 385; Hennepin County v. Brotherhood of Gethsemane, 27 Minn. 460, 8 N.W. 595; St. Elizabeth Hosp. v. Lancaster Co., 109 Neb. 104, 189 N.W. 981; In re House of Good Shepherd of Omaha, 113 Neb. 489, 203 N.W. 632.

Julius T. Muench and Charles J. Dolan for respondents.

(1) The buildings in question were not exclusively used, as of June 1, 1930, for religious worship, for schools or for purposes purely charitable. State ex rel. St. Louis Y. M. C. A. v. Gehner, 11 S.W.2d 30; State ex rel. v. St. Louis Y. M. C. A., 259 Mo. 233; St. Louis Lodge B. P. O. E. v. Koeln, 262 Mo. 444; Fitterer v. Crawford, 157 Mo. 51; Y. M. C. A. v. Lancaster, 106 Neb. 105, 192 N.W. 593; Trustees of Y. M. C. A. v. City of Paterson, 61 N. J. L. 420, 39 A. 655; State ex rel. Cunningham v. Board of Assessors, 52 La. Ann. 223, 26 So. 872. (2) Under the Constitution and laws of Missouri, it is the use to which property is put, and not the character of the owner, which determines the right to exemption. Const. of Missouri, Art. X, Sec. 6; R. S. 1929, sec. 9743; Grand Lodge, F. A. M., v. Taylor, 146 Ark. 316, 22 A. L. R. 913. (3) There are two lines of decisions that have been followed by the American courts in construing statutes exempting from taxation the property of charitable organizations, one in the direction of liberal construction, and the other in the direction of strict construction. Manhattan Masonic Temple Assn. v. Rhodes, 132 Kan. 646. (4) Missouri is committed to the doctrine of strict construction. State ex rel. St. Louis Y. M. C. A. v. Gehner, 11 S.W.2d 30; Denville Tp. v. St. Francis Sanatorium, 89 N. J. L. 293, 98 A. 254; Natl. Navy Club v. New York, 203 N.Y.S. 114; Re Vassar Estate, 127 N.Y. 1, 27 N.E. 394; O'Brien v. Physicians' Hospitals, 96 Ohio St. 1, 116 N.E. 975; Corporation of Sisters of Mercy v. Lane County, 123 Ore. 144, 261 P. 694; Episcopal Academy v. Philadelphia, 150 Pa. 565, 25 A. 55; Lutheran Hospital Assn. v. Baker, 40 S.D. 226, 167 N.W. 148; Baptist Hospital v. Nashville, 156 Tenn. 589, 3 S.W.2d 1059; Scott v. All Saints Hospital, 203 S.W. 146; Reynolds Memorial Hospital v. County Court, 78 W.Va. 685, 90 S.E. 238; St. Joseph Hospital Assn. v. Ashland County, 96 Wis. 636, 72 N.W. 43. (5) Y. M. C. A.'s conducted in the same manner as appellant are, by the great weight of authority, entitled, under substantially similar laws, to exemption from taxation as charitable, educational or religious institutions. Waycross v. Waycross, 90 S.E. 382; Commonwealth v. Y. M. C. A., 116 Ky. 711; Corbin Y. M. C. A. v. Commonwealth, 181 Ky. 384, 205 S.W. 388; Little v. Newburyport, 210 Mass. 414; Y. M. C. A. v. Lancaster County, 106 Neb. 105, 182 N.W. 593; Carter v. Whitcomb, 74 N.H. 482, 69 A. 779; W. C. A. of Philadelphia v. Lippencott (N. J.), 153 A. 261; W. C. A. v. Pelham, 153 A. 397; In re Syracuse Y. M. C. A., 213 N.Y.S. 35; Y. W. C. A. v. City of New York, 243 N.Y.S. 294; Ottawa Y. M. C. A. v. City, 29 Ont. L. 574; Re Ottawa Y. M. C. A. v. City, 29 Ont. L. 582; County of Lancaster v. Y. W. C. A. of Lancaster, 92 Pa. S.Ct. 514; Philadelphia v. W. C. A., 125 Pa. St. 572; Y. M. C. A. of Manila v. Collector, 33 Philippine, 217; Commonwealth v. Lynchburg Y. M. C. A., 115 Va. 745, 80 S.E. 589; State ex rel. Y. M. C. A. of Wisconsin v. Richardson, 222 N.W. 222.


Gantt, J.

Plaintiff, Missouri corporation, seeks to enjoin defendants, tax assessing and collecting officers of St. Louis, from collecting taxes for 1931 assessed against its lots in said city. The petition for injunction was denied. Plaintiff appealed.

This is the third effort of plaintiff to exempt its lots from taxation. [State ex rel. v. Y. M. C. A., 259 Mo. 233, 168 S.W. 589; State ex rel. v. Gehner, 11 S.W.2d 30.]

In the last named case we held the lots were not exempt. The facts in the instant case are the same, except that in the instant case the evidence shows that the business is limited to dealings with members, whereas, in the last named case the evidence showed that the business was transacted with members and non-members. On the evidence in the last named case we held that the buildings were not used exclusively for purely charitable purposes. Plaintiff construed the opinion to hold that if it only transacted business with members, its property would be exempt from taxation. Thereafter it limited the transaction of business to members. It now requires a person to sign an application for membership and to pay a membership fee of $ 1 per year. On doing so he becomes a member and entitled to transact business with plaintiff. In State ex rel. v. Gehner, supra, we ruled the question on the facts presented by the record. The statute does not exempt property because its use is limited to members of an organization. But plaintiff claims that the use of the lots by members only is a use exclusively for religious worship, for schools and other purposes purely charitable, and for that reason the lots are exempt from taxation under Section 6, Article X, Constitution, and Section 9743, Revised Statutes 1929.

Plaintiff was organized by pro forma decree of the circuit court under the statutes governing benevolent, religious, scientific, fraternal, beneficial, educational and miscellaneous associations. Its purpose is declared in its charter to be "the improvement of the spiritual, mental, social and physical condition of young men." It is described by its general secretary as follows:

"Q. Now, isn't it a fact, Mr. Haworth, that your organization could be more accurately described as a character-building organization than as a charitable organization? A. I think that is correct. It could be described as a character-building and educational-building and religious organization."

Even so, the purpose and object of the organization, standing alone, is not determinative of the question.

In State ex rel. v. Gehner, supra, after reviewing the authorities, we said:

"It will therefore be seen that the test for tax exemption is not the number of good purposes to which a building may be put, nor the amount of good derived by the general public in the operation of such purposes, but whether the building is used exclusively for religious, educational, or charitable purposes. If it is used for one or more commercial purposes, it is not exclusively used for the exempted purposes, but is subject to taxation."

Thus it appears that the question turns on the use of the lots. In this connection it may be stated that we are committed to a strict construction of statutes exempting property...

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