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International Missions Inc. v. Borough of Lincoln Park

Decided: March 26, 1965.

INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
BOROUGH OF LINCOLN PARK, RESPONDENT



Goldmann, Sullivan and Labrecque. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.

Goldmann

Respondent borough assessed the house and lot owned by petitioner International Missions, Inc. (International) at 5 Stephen Avenue, Lincoln Park, N.J., for the year 1963. Petitioner's appeal to the Morris County Board of Taxation on the ground that its property was exempt under N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.6 resulted in an affirmance of the assessment. On further appeal to the State Division of Tax Appeals the assessment was again affirmed and the appeal dismissed. International appeals the Division judgment, claiming exemption under N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.6 as well as N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.35.

International is a non-profit corporation of the State of New Jersey, organized under Title 15 of the Revised Statutes for "religious, charitable and educational purposes." Its original corporate name was the India Mission, Inc., subsequently changed to International Missions, Inc.

Reverend LaRowe, president of the corporation and a commissioned minister of the Gospel, described petitioner as an "interdenominational, unaffiliated, faith mission," meaning that "we have no organized constituency nor subsidizing organization to guarantee our support or provide our funds." Financing for some 150 missions in foreign lands is provided by the free-will offerings of "Christian people in area churches and places in this continent." International's main home office is at 234 Bergen Avenue, Jersey City, N.J., the administrative center for its world-wide activities. It receives and distributes funds from that place, as well as literature and publicity.

Reverend LaRowe said that International has no churches in North America, although it has "many" elsewhere; there is no organized constituency. He testified he has a private office at the Jersey City address and lives there.

Reverend Davis, vice-president of International and a commissioned minister of the Gospel, lives at the Lincoln Park house. His work was described as that of office manager. He is in charge of finances and all matters relating to outgoing

and returning missionaries. These duties require his presence in the Jersey City office about four days a week. He commutes to that office from his home in Lincoln Park. He works at home on an average of one day a week. Reverend Davis preaches on weekends. However, he has no church of his own. Although he is a member of Jackson Chapel in Lincoln Park, that church has its own pastors and Reverend Davis preaches there only by invitation. It would appear that he also preaches in other communities, again by invitation, and travels in connection with promotional work for International.

The Lincoln Park property is a six-room residence, one room being used by Reverend Davis as his study and the remaining rooms for his family.

Petitioner claims it is entitled to a tax exemption on the Lincoln Park property under N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.6. That section reads, in pertinent part:

"The following property shall be exempt from taxation under this chapter: * * * all buildings actually and exclusively used in the work of associations and corporations organized exclusively for the moral and mental improvement of men, women and children, or for religious, charitable or hospital purposes, or for one or more such purposes; * * * the buildings, not exceeding 2, actually occupied as a parsonage by the officiating clergymen of any religious corporation of this State * * *; the land whereon any of the buildings hereinbefore mentioned are erected, and which may be necessary for the fair enjoyment thereof, and which is devoted to the purposes above mentioned and to no other purpose and does not exceed 5 acres in extent; * * *."

We start with the proposition that statutes granting exemption from taxation are most strongly construed against those claiming the exemption. The burden of proving a tax-exempt status is upon the claimant. Princeton University Press v. Princeton, 35 N.J. 209, 214 (1961). The borough concedes that International is a corporation organized for the mental and moral improvement of men, women and children, and for ...


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