Update: Michel Gray & Rogers LLP Files Appeal Regarding Equitable Title Ownership Under the Religious Organization Exemption Statute.
By Lee D. Winston | November 10, 2023
On November 9, 2023 Michel Gray & Rogers LLP filed an appeal with the Third Court of Appeals Austin from a summary judgment in favor of the Travis Central Appraisal District. The appeal concerns the correct application of equitable title ownership and asks the question if a property qualifies for the religious organization exemption (Texas Property Tax Code Section 11.20) if the religious organization is not the legal title owner (the entity named in the deed/named on the CAD’s website).
South 1/2 Block 8 Venture v. Travis Central Appraisal District, No. TBD (Tex. App.—Austin)
Primary Tax Code Section at Issue: Tex. Tax Code § 11.20.
Appellee Trial Argument: The legal title owner of the Christian Science Reading Room is not a religious organization, and because of this, the property is not entitled to a religious organization exemption.
Appellant Trial Argument: TCAD’s argument that the Christian Science Reading Room is not owned by a religious organization is incorrect. TCAD’s argument is short sighted and only an announcement of the default rule for determining ownership — holder of legal title is the owner. See, when legal and equitable title are split, the equitable title holder is the owner for purposes of obtaining an exemption. Here, equitable title is held by a religious organization, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Austin, Texas. An equitable title holder is a person who has the present right to compel legal title. This arises in several circumstances, but all deal with the same principle — an unqualified, unilateral right to compel delivery of the conveyance transferring legal title. That is what we have here. The Church transferred legal title South 1/2 Block 8 Venture as a capital contribution. In exchange for that contribution, the Church became a partner of South 1/2 Block 8 Venture. Under South 1/2 Block 8 Venture’s partnership agreement, the Church was authorized to withdrawal from the partnership at any time and for any reason. Then, on withdrawal, title to the Christian Science Reading Room reverts to the Church.
Disposition: Summary Judgment.
Appellate Case Number: TBD
Appeal Date: November 9, 2023.
Appeals Court: 3rd Court of Appeals, Austin, Texas.
District Court: 353rd Judicial District Court, of Travis County, Texas.
Attorneys Involved: South 1/2 Block 8 Venture: Lee D. Winston of Michel Gray & Rogers LLP; Travis Central Appraisal District: Tyler McCarty of McCreary, Veselka, Bragg & Allen, P.C.
To follow this appeal: TBD.