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The National Center for Construction Education and Research Ltd., Corp. v. ED Crapo

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

June 13, 2018

The National Center for Construction Education and Research Ltd., Corp., Appellant,
v.
Ed Crapo, as Alachua County Property Appraiser, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Alachua County. Monica J. Brasington, Judge.

          D. Kent Safriet of Hopping, Green & Sams, P.A., Tallahassee, and Patrice Boyes of Patrice Boyes, P.A., Gainesville, for Appellant.

          John C. Dent and Jennifer A. McClain of Dent & McClain, Chartered, Sarasota, for Appellee.

          B.L. Thomas, C.J.

         The National Center for Construction Education and Research, Ltd., appeals the trial court's final judgment upholding Appellee's denial of its application for exemption from ad valorem property taxes. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         Appellant, a non-profit corporation registered under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, is incorporated in Virginia and authorized as a foreign entity to do business in Florida. Appellant develops training materials for the construction industry, with a stated purpose of assuring "that construction clients receive quality services and construction workers have rewarding, progressive careers." Appellant owns and holds its headquarters in a commercial multi-story office building on 3.32 acres of real property in Alachua County.

         In January 2015, Appellant attempted to file an application for a combined charitable and education exemption from ad valorem taxation of its 3.32-acre property. After Appellee refused to accept an application claiming two exemptions, Appellant filed one application claiming a charitable exemption, and the following day filed another application claiming an education exemption. Appellee denied both applications, and Appellant appealed those denials to the Alachua County Value Adjustment Board, under sections 196.011 and 196.193, Florida Statutes. After the Value Adjustment Board upheld the denials, Appellant appealed those decisions to the circuit court, which upheld the decisions after a two-day bench trial.

         II. Analysis

         Statutes providing for an exemption to an ad valorem tax are strictly construed, and any ambiguity must be resolved against the claimed exemption. Sowell v. Panama Commons, LP., 192 So.3d 27, 30 (Fla. 2016); Housing by Vogue, Inc. v. State, Dept. of Revenue, 403 So.2d 478, 480 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981). "'The burden is on the claimant to show clearly any entitlement to tax exemption.'" Id. (quoting Volusia Cty. v. Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities Dist., 341 So.2d 498, 502 (Fla. 1976)).

         Property owned by "exempt entities" and used predominantly for "exempt purposes" is exempt from ad valorem taxation, to the extent of the exempt use. § 196.192(2), Fla. Stat. (2015). "Exempt uses" of property include property utilized for educational and charitable purposes. § 196.012(1), Fla. Stat. (2015). Florida Statutes do not define educational purposes, but section 196.198, the educational-property exemption statute, provides that "[e]ducational institutions [[1] within this state and their property used by them . . . exclusively for educational purposes are exempt from taxation."

         A "charitable purpose" is defined in section 196.012(7), Florida Statues (2015) as a

function or service which is of such a community service that its discontinuance could legally result in the allocation of public funds for the continuance of the function or service. It is not necessary that public funds be allocated for such function ...

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