Saturday, August 30, 2008

Court Says No Tax Exemption For Catholic Hospital That Gives Little Charity Care

In Provena Covenant Medical Center v. Department of Revenue of the State of Illinois, (IL Ct. App., Aug. 26, 2008), an Illinois appellate court agreed with the Illinois Department of Revenue that a Catholic Hospital in Urbana (IL) was not entitled to a property tax exemption. Covenant devoted less than 1% of its revenue to charity care. Applying six factors, the court upheld the Revenue Department's ruling that the property was not used exclusively for charitable purposes and did not belong to an institution of public charity. Alternatively the hospital claimed it was entitled to an exemption as property used primarily for religious purposes. The court also rejected this argument:
If "religious purpose" meant whatever one did in the name of religion, it would be an unlimited and amorphous concept…. "Religious purpose" within the meaning of [the statute] has to be narrower than "Christian service," or else "religious purpose" would mean everything (and, therefore, nothing)…. If the operation of the property is businesslike and more characteristic of a place of commerce than a facility used primarily for religious purposes, the property is not exempt from taxation… Covenant more resembles a business with religious overtones than property used primarily for religious purposes.
Thursday's Chicago Tribune reported on the decision. Today's Urbana News-Gazette reports that the county treasurer moved quickly after the decision to demand that the hospital return $6.1 million in property taxes and interest that the county had refunded when a trial court initially overturned the Department of Revenue's exemption denial.