Blumenthal v. Clerk of Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, 15

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation278 Md. 398,365 A.2d 279
Docket NumberNo. 15,15
Parties. Court of Appeals of Maryland
Decision Date22 October 1976

Page 398

278 Md. 398
365 A.2d 279
Harry C. BLUMENTHAL et ux.
No. 15.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Oct. 22, 1976.

[365 A.2d 280]

Page 399

John J. Ghingher, Jr. and Ronald J. Kwoka, Baltimore (Jerome T. May, Annapolis, on the brief), for appellants.

Gerald I. Langbaum, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore (Francis B. Burch, Atty Gen., Baltimore, on the brief), by Frederick C. Sussman, Asst. County Sol. for Anne Arundel County, Annapolis (Michael Roblyer, County Sol., Annapolis, on the brief), by H. Christopher Malone, Asst. County Atty. for Montgomery County, Rockville

Page 400

(Richard S. McKernon, County Atty. and Robert G. Tobin, Jr., Deputy County Atty., Rockville, on the brief) by Peter Max Zimmerman, Asst. County Sol. for Baltimore County, Towson (J. Carroll Holzer, County Sol. and Harry S. Shapiro, Chief Asst. County Sol., Towson, on the brief) Edgar Thomas Merryweather, County Sol., Cambridge, on brief, for Dorchester County; Joseph Ernest Bell, II, County Atty., Leonardtown, on brief, for St. Mary's County, Thomas C. Hayden, Jr., County Atty., La Plata, on brief, for Charles County; Benjamin L. Brown, City Sol., [365 A.2d 281] Ambrose T. Hartman, Deputy City Sol. and Richard K. Jacobsen, Chief Sol., on brief, for Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, for appellees.


LEVINE, Judge.

The primary question presented by this appeal is whether the General Assembly has granted statutory authority to certain counties and the City of Baltimore to fix by local resolution or ordinance the rate of tax to be charged in their respective jurisdictions for the recordation of instruments conveying title and securing debts. In the mandamus and declaratory judgment action from which this appeal arises, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County (Evans, J.) held that such authority had been granted. We issued a writ of certiorari prior to consideration of the case by the Court of Special Appeals and, for reasons that follow, we affirm.

At the heart of this case is the effect of

Page 401

Chapter 452, Laws of 1968 upon Maryland Code (1957, 1975 Repl.Vol.) Art. 81, § 277, dealing with the recordation tax, and the impact upon those statutory provisions of a recent decision of this Court. 1 Chapter 452, in relevant part, added to § 277 a new subsection q which provided:

'Every county and Baltimore City may, by resolution or ordinance duly enacted by its governing body, fix the rate of tax imposed by this subtitle. In the absence of such resolution or ordinance, the rates specified in this subtitle shall continue to apply.'

Prior to 1957, § 277(b), which provided that the recordation tax rate generally 'shall be at the rate of 55cents for each $500.00 or fractional part thereof,' applied to the 23 counties and the City of Baltimore. Subsection m was initially enacted by Chapter 778 of the Laws of 1957 so as to provide that the rate in Montgomery County 'shall be at the rate of $1.10 for each $500 or fractional part thereof.' By the close of the 1968 legislative session, seven other counties had been added to (m) by a series of amendments. Subsection n, added in 1961, applied to the City of Baltimore and three counties at the conclusion of the 1968 session. The City of Baltimore and six of the eleven counties named in (m) and (n) are among the appellees here.

[365 A.2d 282] Pursuant to the enactment of Chapter 452 in 1968, each of

Page 402

the political subdivisions appearing here as an appellee, the City of Baltimore and the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Dorchester, Montgomery and St. Mary's, enacted local measures establishing the rate of the recordation tax in their respective jurisdictions. The rates thus established ranged from $1.65 to $3.50, thereby exceeding in each instance the amounts fixed by either (m) or (n) of § 277 for those six counties and the City of Baltimore.

A challenge to the recording tax rate set by Anne Arundel County precipitated the litigation which culminates in this appeal. When the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County refused to accept a deed offered for recordation by appellants, who were the grantors therein, because they had tendered a recording tax computed at the $1.10 rate specified in § 277(m) rather than the $3.50 rate enacted by the county council, appellants filed a suit in the circuit court which was ultimately amended to include as defendants the Comptroller, the City of Baltimore and the Clerk of the Superior Court of Baltimore City, as well as Baltimore, Charles, Dorchester, Montgomery and St. Mary's Counties and the clerks of their respective circuit courts. After the defendants moved for summary judgment, Judge Evans filed a thoroughly considered opinion and an order granting the motion, in which he ruled that § 277(q) was applicable to the six counties and Baltimore City, and that the local enactments in each of those political subdivisions 'setting the rate for the recordation tax in excess of that provided for in Article 81 Section 277(m) and (n) are valid and have been valid since their enactment.' The appeal followed.


Appellants advance several grounds for their contention that § 277(q) does not authorize the political subdivisions enumerated in § 277(m) and (n) to increase the recordation tax rate by local ordinance or resolution. We shall address these arguments, not all of which need be treated separately, in the course of dealing with the issues as we perceive them in this appeal.

Page 403

Since all the subsections of § 277, constituting with § 278 the subtitle 'Recordation Tax,' represent a general statutory scheme or system, they must be read and considered together to ascertain the true intention of the Legislature. Thomas v. State, 277 Md. 314, 317, 353 A.2d 256 (1976); County Council v. Supervisor, 274 Md. 116, 120, 332 A.2d 897 (1975); Parker v. Junior Press Printing, 266 Md. 721, 725, 296 A.2d 377 (1972). It is this rule, which we are bound to apply, that contributes to the dilemma in this case.

Confronted by the apparent contradiction between subsections m and n, on the one hand, each of which purports to mandate fixed rates for the political subdivisions enumerated therein, and (q), on the other, permitting '(e)very county and Baltimore City' to fix the tax rate, the circuit court concluded, correctly in our view, that an ambiguity existed requiring for its resolution a resort to the available legislative history of Chapter 452. Appellants do not attack this conclusion, but challenge instead both the rules of statutory construction and the particular legislative history relied upon in the court below. That resort may be had to the legislative history of a statute when an ambiguity exists is a cardinal rule of construction. Mackie v. Town of Elkton, 265 Md. 410, 415, 290 A.2d 500 (1972); Pressman v. Barnes, 209 Md. 544, 558-59, 121 A.2d 816 (1956); see Crim. Inj. Comp. Bd. v. Gould, 273 Md. 486, 495, 331 A.2d 55 (1975).

As the record in this case reveals, House Joint Resolution 24 of the 1967 session of the General Assembly provided for creation of a commission to conduct studies and prepare corrective legislation for various state and local taxation and fiscal [365 A.2d 283] problems. This action led to formation of the Joint Legislative-Executive Committee to Study Taxation and Fiscal Problems which submitted its report to the General Assembly on January 1, 1968. 2 Noting that the federal recordation tax, which theretofore had been imposed at the rate of 55cents per $500, was to be discontinued as of January 1, 1968, as part of an overall federal program of excise tax

Page 404

reduction, the joint committee recommended 'that the counties and Baltimore City be authorized to impose a recordation tax, upon 'instruments of writing' presently taxed in Maryland, at such rate as each shall elect.' (emphasis added). A footnote to one of the exhibits attached to the report, summarizing the fiscal effects of the various recommendations, stated:

'Although local governments would be authorized to elect any level of increase, this estimate assumes a 55cents for $500 increase for all-the level of the Federal tax being removed.' (emphasis added).

House Bill 410 of the 1968 session, implementing the committee recommendations, was introduced by the house members of the joint committee, and Senate Bill 209, ultimately enacted as Chapter 452, was introduced by the senate members of the joint committee. A comparison of the various recommendations of the joint committee with Chapter 452, which dealt with a number of tax matters in addition to...

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