Baltimore Club Wins Tax Appeal

Stop payment on the tax check! Maryland’s Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, agreeing that its clubhouse deserves a tax exemption.

There had been a split decision in two earlier cases. The Maryland Tax Court (with jurisdiction over property taxes) ruled that the clubhouse should be exempt, but the decision was overturned on the next round in the Baltimore City Circuit Court where the judge sided with state authorities and said, “I don’t think promoting science fiction is what is deemed to be the operation of an educational institution.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals’ opinion, filed December 15, grouchily sniped at the way the Circuit Court misinterpreted the Maryland Tax Court’s original ruling: “[The Circuit Court] took considerable umbrage at the Tax Court’s rejection of a standard for defining educational purpose… That is not what the Court said, and it is not what the Court meant.”

Unfortunately, the judge at whom the remarks are directed took his own life November 11.

The reasoning applied by the Maryland Court of Appeals in this decision is summed up in the following comment:

In upholding the Tax Court’s decision in this case, we do not dismiss out of hand SDAT’s concern that the property was open only three days a week; nor do we embrace as a general proposition that a limited use of property for an exempt purpose is irrelevant. As noted, the Tax Court drew a distinction between property used for both exempt and non-exempt purposes and property being used solely for an exempt purpose but only part of the time. That distinction itself has some limits; to qualify for an exemption the property must be primarily used for an exempt purpose. In this case, given the overall use of the property in question, including the on-going storage of materials necessary to support the educational functions carried on by BSFS, the Tax Court in this case did not err in finding that the primary use was for an educational purpose.

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