Commonwealth Court determines religious organization not under auspices of hotel tax

By Nicholas Malfitano | Apr 28, 2016

HARRISBURG – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled April 21 that a religious organization that hosts multi-day retreat events was not subject to Susquehanna County’s amended ordinance related to hotel room taxes.

Commonwealth Court Judge Rochelle S. Friedman authored an opinion on behalf of herself and colleagues P. Kevin Brobson and James Gardner Colins, which both struck down the appeal of the Susquehanna County Board of Commissioners against the Montrose Bible Conference (MBC) and affirmed a May 2015 decision in the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania  

MBC hosts Christian retreats on its property throughout the year, with some being multi-day events where attendees may stay in overnight accommodations on MBC’s premises.

In July 2010, Susquehanna County filed a complaint against MBC in the trial court, alleging the group failed to pay the County’s requisite 3 percent tax on hotel room rentals.

MBC responded in February 2011 it was not subject to the tax under the terms of the ordinance and filed motions claiming such, though its later motion for summary judgment in support of this filing was defeated in the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas.

But when the case proceeded to a non-jury trial, the trial court entered a final order in favor of MBC on May 11 of last year. The trial court determined MBC attendees were the only people allowed to utilize the overnight accommodations and its primary purpose was “religious in nature”, thus not being subject to the hotel tax.

The County did not file post-trial motions, but appealed to the Commonwealth Court on May 19, charging the trial court with erring in its view of the MBC and its exemption from the hotel tax.

Friedman said, “[Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure] No. 227.1(c)(2) provides that post-trial motions shall be filed within ten days after…the filing of the decision in the case of a trial without jury. A party must raise an issue in a post-trial motion in order to preserve the issue for appellate review.”

Friedman added the purpose of Rule No. 227.1 is to “avoid the need for appellate review, by providing the trial court a chance to correct any errors in its ruling”, and raising an issue by other means aside from a post-trial motion will not preserve it on appeal.

“Here, in order to preserve its issues for appeal, the County was required to file a post-trial motion within 10 days of the trial court’s May 11, 2015, order. However, the County never filed a post-trial motion,” Friedman said.

Therefore, Friedman stated, the County waived the matters of whether MBC is a hotel under the ordinance, or is subject to the hotel tax through this omission.

However, Friedman added in her conclusion that if even the post-trial motion had been filed, the trial court ruled properly that the MBC is not a hotel or subject to any relevant tax, since it didn’t offer overnight lodging to anyone seeking temporary accommodations – merely to registered attendees of their events.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania case 833 C.D. 2015

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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