The Newport Health Center (Hospital) located in the Town of Newport was denied a charitable property tax exemption by the select board due to the late filing of the required annual exemption form. Under RSA 72:23-c every religious, educational and charitable organization must annually file with the select board or assessors, before April 15th, BTLA Form A-9 listing all real estate claimed to be exempt. The Hospital filed its annual exemption form on May 19, 2016. At a select board meeting on August 29, 2016 the board voted to deny the claim “because the application for the exemption was untimely and because the level of charity care provided by the hospital is very small and it is a fee for service operation.” The Hospital appealed the denial to the Superior Court.
On appeal to the Superior Court and then to the NH Supreme Court, the Hospital argued that even though it had admittedly not timely filed its annual application for a charitable exemption, it should nonetheless be granted because it could demonstrate accident, mistake or misfortune even though that excuse was not presented to the select board. Both the Superior and Supreme Court’s rejected those arguments.
The Hospital argued that as applied to its charitable exemption application the strict adherence to the April 15th deadline was an overly-technical construction inconsistent with the statute’s overall purpose. The Court concluded that strict adherence to the legislature’s deadline for charitable exemption applications does not contravene the statute’s purpose, as that deadline assists local government by providing a timely, accurate and comprehensive list of a community’s taxable property. Because the Hospital did not claim accident, mistake or misfortune when it initially submitted its untimely Form A-9 to the select board, it was deemed to have waived that exception to the statutory deadline. NHC also tried to amend its appeal in the Superior Court by arguing Newport was improperly discriminating against it due an administrative policy of notifying particular entities, not including the Hospital of approaching deadlines for tax exemptions. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that this would add and entirely new cause of action and unfairly prejudice the town.