Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association Exemption Upheld on Appeal

by: Anthony F. Della Pelle
9 Mar 2023

A 2021 decision by the Tax Court of New Jersey that granted a property tax exemption to a local religious organization in Monmouth County was recently affirmed by the Appellate Division in a reported per curiam opinion.   The Township of Neptune had appealed the determination of the Tax Court granting an exemption to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the United Methodist Church for its property in Neptune, which had historically been granted property tax exemption but for which exemption was first denied by the local assessor in 2017 for the 2018 tax year.

The property owned by the Association was used “in union with other contiguous property as a religious retreat and conference center for exempt religious purposes pursuant to N.J.S.A.54:4-3.6″, such as retreats for church groups, training, worship, and educational purposes.  As a result of the township’s efforts to place the property on the tax rolls, the Association filed an appeal challenging the non-exempt status, which led to cross-motions for summary judgment being filed by both the Association and the Township.  In 2021, Tax Court Judge Mala Sundar issued an opinion upholding the tax-exempt status of the property, based upon her conclusion that it satisfied the three-prong test for exemption under N.J.S.A.54:4-3.6, which was enunciated by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Paper Mill Playhouse v. Tp. of Millburn, 95 N.J. 503 (1984).  According to this test, (1) the property must be organized exclusively for a tax-exempt purpose; (2) the property must be actually and exclusively used for the tax-exempt purpose; and (3) its operation and use of the property must not be conducted for profit. See Paper Mill Playhouse, 95 N.J. at 506.

We analyzed the Tax Court’s 2021 decision in our earlier blog post, available here.

Apparently not satisfied with the Tax Court’s decision, the Township filed an appeal where for the first time (and although it had itself filed a motion for summary judgment in support of its claim that the property should be denied its exemption) the Township suggested to the appellate court that there were “too many issues of material facts” that precluded the entry of a summary judgment.  This argument seemingly mattered to the appellate court, which concluded that there were no “genuine issues of fact” presented.

As a result of its analysis, the Appellate Division affirmed the Tax Court’s opinion, and held that the Township’s contentions “lacked sufficient merit to warrant further discussion in a written opinion.”  Because the appeals court concluded that the Tax Court’s findings were fully supported by substantial credible evidence in the record, it upheld the lower court’s opinion granting the Association’s exemption.

A copy of the Appellate Division’s reported opinion in Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, et al, v. Tp. of Neptune, is available here.

This decision reinforces the principle that, while exemptions are strictly scrutinized, validly qualifying organizations and properties can enjoy the benefits of property tax exemption if they can prove that they meet the criteria applicable to their organization and its use of real property for a tax-exempt purpose.