COMMUNITY INVOLVED IN SUSTAINING AGRICULTURE vs. BOARD OF ASSESSORS OF DEERFIELD

Mass.  Appeals Court, 13-P-1050, November 10, 2014: Agricultural buy-local organization exempt from real estate tax.

On appeal from the state’s Appellate Tax Board, the court held that Community Involved In Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is entitled to exemption from local property tax on land it owns and occupies for its programs. At issue was whether the dominant purpose of CISA’s work “is for the public good and the work done for its members is but the means adopted for this purpose” — which would qualify it as a charitable organization entitled to exemption — or if any benefit derived by the public is incidental.

The court found that the facts establish that CISA’s programs benefit an indefinite number of people, many of whom are not members. Quoting a ruling by the state’s highest court that, “Whatever aids agriculture helps to advance the health and prosperity of the Commonwealth,” the court listed CISA activities of general public benefit: it “distributes a free annual ‘locally grown farm products guide’ to nearly 50,000 households, and helps vulnerable populations such as the elderly, low income citizens, school children, and urban residents receive fresh local food that they would otherwise struggle to access. By increasing food security and developing sustainable local farming, CISA engages in charitable activities that benefit the general public. Moreover, CISA is traditionally charitable because its programs lessen the burdens of many government agencies ‘interested in food systems, nutrition, public health, agriculture, and local farmers.’” The court also noted that CISA does not restrict membership and its members are diverse and come from different segments of society.

The decision, available currently at http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/reporter-of-decisions/new-opinions/13p1050.pdf, is a summary decision by a three-judge panel that may be cited for its persuasive value but not as binding precedent. The decision will eventually be available at https://www.lexisnexis.com/clients/macourts/.

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