February 9, 2021
- Whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant in the plaintiff’s appeal from the defendant’s denial of the plaintiff’s application for a charitable tax exemption.
- Whether the trial court erred when it denied the plaintiff’s motion to amend its complaint where the proposed amendment introduced a new cause of action and different evidence but would not cure the defects in the complaint.
In 2016, the plaintiff Hospital filed a Board of Tax and Land Appeal (BTLA) Form A-9 with the defendant Town more than one month after its annual due date of April 15. The Town Board of Selectmen voted to deny the Hospital’s application as untimely and because the level of charity care provided by the Hospital is small and it is a fee for service operation. The Hospital appealed the Town’s decision to the trial court. The Town moved for summary judgment arguing that it is undisputed that the Hospital’s application was not timely filed, and that the Hospital did not provide any evidence of accident, mistake or misfortune which would have invoked the only statutory exception for a late filing. Additionally, while the summary judgment motion was pending, the Hospital moved to amend its complaint to add a claim against the Town for a violation of the equal protection clause based on the Town’s administrative policy of notifying particular entities (not including the Hospital) of upcoming filing deadlines for tax exemptions. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Town and denied the Hospital’s motion to amend its complaint.
The Hospital argued on appeal that, despite having filed the Form A-9 late, the Town still received the Hospital’s application fulfilling the statutory rule, because the Town physically received the Form and did not alert the Hospital to any potential filing defects and because the Town ruled on the merits of the Form. The Court held that, because the statute places the burden on the taxpayer to convince the Town that the filing was late due to accident, mistake or misfortune and the Hospital provided no such evidence, the trial court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of the Town. There was no evidence in the record to suggest that the Town made any implied findings that the Form lacked merit and, therefore, the Court found that the Hospital did not satisfy the statutory deadline or the statutory exception.
The Court went on to find that the Hospital’s claim that the Town’s administrative policy unlawfully treats entities within its jurisdiction unequally is separate from the Hospital’s claim that it was wrongfully denied a tax exemption. The Court upheld that liberal amendment of pleadings is permitted except where the changes would surprise the opposing party, introduce an entirely new cause of action or call for substantially different evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the proposed amendment to the complaint sought to include a brand new cause of action and the motion to amend was properly denied.
Devine, Millimet & Branch, of Manchester (Matthew R. Johnson and Lynnette V. Macomber on the brief, and Mr. Johnson orally), for the plaintiff. Hage Hodes, of Manchester (Jamie N. Hage and Katherine Hedges on the brief, and Mr. Hage orally), and Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, of Lebanon (Adele M. Fulton and Matthew C. Decker on the brief), for the defendant.