Town of Johnston v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, No. 13-2116 (1st Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
The states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island each tax the transfer of real estate. In separate actions, the Town of Johnston, Rhode Island and the Commissioners of Bristol County, Massachusetts (the municipalities) brought actions against Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (collectively, the entities), seeking declaratory judgments that the entities owed transfer taxes as well as money damages and equitable relief to recover the unpaid taxes. Federal district courts granted the entities’ motions to dismiss based on statutory exemptions from taxation. The municipalities appealed, arguing that a real property exception in the entities’ tax exemptions applies to the transfer taxes and that the exemptions themselves are unconstitutional. The First Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all claims, holding (1) the transfer taxes are not included in the real property exception to the entities’ tax exemptions; and (2) the tax exemptions are a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause and do not violate the Tenth Amendment.