Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Kay Cnty. v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n & Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., No. 13–7114.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtSENTELLE
Citation754 F.3d 1025
PartiesBOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF KAY COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, Appellant v. FEDERAL HOUSING FINANCE AGENCY, as conservator for Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, et al., Appellees, United States of America, Intervenor.
Decision Date13 June 2014
Docket NumberNo. 13–7114.

754 F.3d 1025

BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF KAY COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, Appellant
v.
FEDERAL HOUSING FINANCE AGENCY, as conservator for Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, et al., Appellees,
United States of America, Intervenor.

No. 13–7114.

United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.

Argued May 12, 2014.
Decided June 13, 2014.


[754 F.3d 1027]


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:12–cv–01283).

Warren T. Burns argued the cause for appellant.
With him on the briefs was Terrell W. Oxford. Jonathan W. Cuneo and Larry D. Lahman entered appearances.

Michael A.F. Johnson argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Howard N. Cayne, Dirk C. Phillips, Michael J. Ciatti, Merritt E. McAlister, Michael D. Leffel, and Jill L. Nicholson.


Tamara W. Ashford, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Gilbert S. Rothenberg, Jonathan S. Cohen, and Patrick J. Urda, Attorneys, were on the brief for intervenor United States of America in support of appellees.

Before: HENDERSON and MILLETT, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed by Senior Circuit Judge SENTELLE.

SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge:

The Board of County Commissioners of Kay County appeals the district court's dismissal of its complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), along with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) as their conservator, violated state law by failing to pay Oklahoma's documentary stamp tax (the “Transfer Tax”). The district court held that all of the entities were exempt from the tax pursuant to their statutory charters, 12 U.S.C. §§ 1452(e), 1723a(c)(2), 4617(j)(1)-(2). We affirm the district court. We hold that the statutes exempt the entities from all state and local taxation, including Oklahoma's Transfer Tax, and that the Transfer Tax does not constitute a tax on real property such that it falls into the real property exceptions from the exemptions. Finally, we hold that Kay County has forfeited its argument that the exemptions represent an invalid exercise of the Commerce power.

BACKGROUND

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are federally-chartered, privately-owned entities currently under the conservatorship of the FHFA. Pursuant to 12 U.S.C. §§ 1452(e), 1723a(c)(2), and 4617(j)(1)-(2), each of these entities is “exempt from all taxation ... imposed by any State [or] county ... except that any real property of the [corporation or Agency is] subject to [such taxation] to the same extent ... as other real property....” Oklahoma imposes a documentary stamp tax on sales of real property. 68 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 3201. The tax is known as a “Transfer Tax,” and is measured by the value of the property conveyed. Id. It attaches at the time a deed is executed and delivered to a buyer, and must be paid by the seller before the deed will be accepted for recording. Id. §§ 3203–04.

Kay County filed against Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHFA (the “Entities”), seeking a declaratory judgment that they were not exempt from the Transfer Tax, along with damages in the amount of Transfer Taxes purportedly due and owing by the Entities. The complaint alleged that the Entities “wrongfully refused to pay” the tax when conveying property in

[754 F.3d 1028]

the state, thereby depriving Kay County of tax revenue to which it is entitled. The Entities moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion. In so doing, the court joined an array of other federal courts interpreting “all taxation” to mean what it says and rejected Kay County's assertion that the phrase is actually a term of art referring only to direct taxation. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Kay County v. FHFA, 956 F.Supp.2d 184, 187–90 (D.D.C.2013). Highlighting the distinction between tax exemptions granted to property and those granted to entities, the court applied Federal Land Bank of St. Paul v. Bismarck Lumber Co., 314 U.S. 95, 62 S.Ct. 1, 86 L.Ed. 65 (1941), which stands for the principle that unqualified exemptions extended to entities reach all taxes ultimately borne by the entity—including excise taxes like the Transfer Tax. Kay County, 956 F.Supp.2d at 188–89. The court further concluded that the Transfer Tax did not fall into the real property exception, noting that “[j]ust because a transfer tax is measured by the value of real property does not mean that the tax is a ‘property tax.’ ” Id. at 189.

In a footnote, the district court also referenced Kay County's contention that the Entities are not federal instrumentalities. Id. at 189 n. 5. However, it dismissed as irrelevant the County's skepticism about “whether [the Entities] should be considered federal instrumentalities for tax purposes” because the Entities' tax exemption depends not upon their instrumentality status, but instead upon the statutory language providing them immunity. Id.

DISCUSSION

On appeal, the County reiterates the statutory arguments brought below—it insists that the statutory exemptions do not include indirect taxes like the Transfer Tax, and, alternatively, that the Transfer Tax falls into the real property exceptions. The County also raises a constitutional challenge asserting that the exemptions represent invalid exercises of the Commerce power absent a sufficiently explicit preemption purpose.

We review a grant of a motion to dismiss de novo. Emory v. United Air Lines, Inc., 720 F.3d 915, 921 (D.C.Cir.2013). Applying this standard, we agree with the district court that the exemptions encompass the Transfer Tax and that the Transfer Tax does not fall into the real property exceptions. Because the County did not present its Commerce power argument below, and concedes before us that the district court's result may stand on the basis of statutory immunity, we need not address either of its constitutional arguments on appeal.

A. Tax Exemption

Appellant's primary argument is that the statutory language exempting the Entities from “all taxation” does not include the Transfer Tax. According to the County, the phrase does not actually mean all taxation; instead, it is a term of art encompassing only direct taxation. The exemptions therefore do not include indirect taxes—like the Transfer Tax—that are levied only upon the transfer of the property.

It is “well settled that the starting point for interpreting a statute is the language of the statute itself.” Gwaltney of Smithfield, Ltd. v. Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc., 484 U.S. 49, 56, 108 S.Ct. 376, 98 L.Ed.2d 306 (1987) (internal quotation omitted). When a statute's language is plain, we “must enforce it according to...

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    ...2356, 2362 (2019) (quoting Perrin v. United States, 444 U.S. 37, 42 (1979)); see also Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025, 1028-29 (D.C. Cir. 2014) ("[W]here a statute's terms are undefined, our interpretation is guided by the terms' 'regular usage.'") ......
  • Montgomery Cnty. Comm'n v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, & Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., Nos. 13–12615
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • January 16, 2015
    ...exemptions do apply in this context, and are constitutional. See Bd. of County Comm'rs of Kay County, Okla. v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025 (D.C.Cir.2014); Vadnais v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 754 F.3d 524 (8th Cir.2014); Delaware County v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 747 F.3d 215 (......
  • Montgomery Cnty. Comm'n v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, & Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., Nos. 13–12615
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • January 16, 2015
    ...exemptions do apply in this context, and are constitutional. See Bd. of County Comm'rs of Kay County, Okla. v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025 (D.C.Cir.2014); Vadnais v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 754 F.3d 524 (8th Cir.2014); Delaware County v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 747 F.3d 215 (......
  • Montgomery Cnty. Comm'n v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, Nos. 13–12615
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • January 16, 2015
    ...exemptions do apply in this context, and are constitutional. See Bd. of County Comm'rs of Kay County, Okla. v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025 (D.C.Cir.2014) ; Vadnais v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 754 F.3d 524 (8th Cir.2014) ; Delaware County v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 747 F.3d 215......
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26 cases
  • Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., Civil Action No. 20-808 (BAH)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 31, 2020
    ...2356, 2362 (2019) (quoting Perrin v. United States, 444 U.S. 37, 42 (1979)); see also Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025, 1028-29 (D.C. Cir. 2014) ("[W]here a statute's terms are undefined, our interpretation is guided by the terms' 'regular usage.'") ......
  • Montgomery Cnty. Comm'n v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, & Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., Nos. 13–12615
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • January 16, 2015
    ...exemptions do apply in this context, and are constitutional. See Bd. of County Comm'rs of Kay County, Okla. v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025 (D.C.Cir.2014); Vadnais v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 754 F.3d 524 (8th Cir.2014); Delaware County v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 747 F.3d 215 (......
  • Montgomery Cnty. Comm'n v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, & Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., Nos. 13–12615
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • January 16, 2015
    ...exemptions do apply in this context, and are constitutional. See Bd. of County Comm'rs of Kay County, Okla. v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025 (D.C.Cir.2014); Vadnais v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 754 F.3d 524 (8th Cir.2014); Delaware County v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 747 F.3d 215 (......
  • Montgomery Cnty. Comm'n v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, Nos. 13–12615
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • January 16, 2015
    ...exemptions do apply in this context, and are constitutional. See Bd. of County Comm'rs of Kay County, Okla. v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 754 F.3d 1025 (D.C.Cir.2014) ; Vadnais v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 754 F.3d 524 (8th Cir.2014) ; Delaware County v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, 747 F.3d 215......
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