NOAA Maryland, LLC v. General Services Administration, No. 20-1548 (Fed. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
GSA leased a building from NOAA’s predecessor; the annual rent includes agreed “[b]ase year taxes.” GSA must compensate NOAA for “any increase in real estate taxes during the lease term over the amount established as the base year taxes” and defines “real estate taxes” as “only those taxes, which are assessed against the building and/or the land upon which the building is located, without regard to benefit to the property, for the purpose of funding general Government services. Real estate taxes shall not include, without limitation, general and/or special assessments, business improvement district assessments, or any other present or future taxes or governmental charges that are imposed upon the Lessor or assessed against the building and/or the land upon which the building is located.
In 2016, NOAA asked GSA to reimburse it for the Stormwater/Chesapeake Bay Water Quality tax, the Washington Suburban Transit Commission tax, the Clean Water Act Fee, and a Supplemental Education Tax. All four appear on the consolidated tax bill. The clean water tax, effective in 2013, is collected for the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund, “in the same manner as County real property taxes and [has] the same priority, rights, and bear[s] the same interest and penalties, and [is] enforced in the same manner as County real property taxes.”
GSA denied the claim. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals held that the lease provision excludes all taxes enacted after the date of the lease, even if those taxes meet expressly stated criteria for being a real estate tax. The Federal Circuit reversed. Under ordinary interpretive principles, a real estate tax qualifies under the Lease provision whenever it satisfies the three criteria of the first sentence.