Pittman v. Home Owners' Loan Corp.
308 U.S. 21 (1939)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Pittman v. Home Owners' Loan Corp., 308 U.S. 21 (1939)

Pittman v. Home Owners' Loan Corp.

No. 10

Argued October 12, 13, 1939

Decided November 6, 1939

308 U.S. 21

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND

Syllabus

1. The Maryland tax on mortgages, graded according to the amount of the loan secured and imposed in addition to the ordinary registration fee as a condition to the recordation of the instrument, cannot be applied to a mortgage tendered for record by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation and securing one of its loans, in view of the provisions of the Home Owners' Loan Act, which declare the Corporation to be an instrumentality of the United States, and that its loans shall be exempt from all state and municipal taxes. Federal Land Bank v. Crosland,261 U. S. 374. P. 308 U. S. 29.

2. Assuming that the creation of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation was a constitutional exercise of the power of Congress, the activities of the Corporation through which the Government lawfully acts must be regarded as governmental functions and entitled to whatever immunity attaches to those functions when performed by the Government itself through its departments. P. 308 U. S. 32.

The power of Congress to create a corporation to facilitate the performance of governmental functions implies a power to protect the operations thus validly authorized, which comes within the range of the express power conferred by Const. Art. I, § 8, cl. 18, to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution all powers vested by the Constitution in the Government. In the exercise of this power to protect, Congress has the dominant authority, which necessarily inheres in its action within the national field.

175 Md. 512, 2 A.2d 689, affirmed.

Certiorari, 306 U.S. 628, to review a judgment affirming the issuance of a mandamus by Baltimore City Court requiring the Clerk of the Superior Court of Baltimore to record a mortgage.

Page 308 U. S. 29

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Home Owners' Loan Corporation brought this proceeding in the Baltimore City Court for a writ of mandamus requiring the Clerk of the Superior Court of Baltimore to record a mortgage executed to the Corporation upon the payment of the ordinary recording charge and without affixing stamps for the state recording tax. Demurrer to the petition was overruled, the Clerk did not avail himself of the opportunity to answer, and mandamus was granted. The order was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of Maryland. 175 Md. 512, 2 A.2d 689. We granted certiorari. 306 U.S. 628.

The Maryland statute imposes a tax upon every mortgage, recorded or offered for record, at the rate of 10 cents for each $100, or fraction thereof, of the principal amount of the debt secured by the mortgage. [Footnote 1] As the Home Owners' Loan Corporation is expressly declared to be an instrumentality of the United States, Home

Page 308 U. S. 30

Owners' Loan Act of 1933, c. 64, 48 Stat. 128, and the mortgage was acquired in that capacity, the Court of Appeals held the tax, as thus applied, to be invalid.

The court relied upon our decision in Federal Land Bank v. Crosland,261 U. S. 374. The question there related to a tax imposed by Alabama as a condition for the recording of a mortgage executed to a Federal Land Bank. The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 provides that first mortgages executed to Federal Land Banks shall be deemed

"instrumentalities of the Government of the United States, and, as such, they and the income derived therefrom shall be exempt from Federal, State, municipal, and local taxation."

39 State, 360, 380 § 26. We held that the state tax, as distinguished from a reasonable fee to meet the expenses of the registry, constituted a general tax on mortgages, using the condition attached to registration as a practical mode of collecting it, and that the tax on the mortgage in question was beyond the power of the State.

Petitioner suggests that the Crosland case may be distinguished; that the Alabama tax was imposed on the lender, whereas the Maryland tax is on the privilege of recording the instrument and the statute is silent as to

Page 308 U. S. 31

the one who shall pay the tax; also, that the Federal Farm Loan Act expressly declared the mortgages of Federal Land Banks to be instrumentalities of the Federal Government. The Court of Appeals thought these differences to be immaterial. As to the first, the court rightly observed that, in the Crosland case, the provision for the payment of tax by the lender was regarded as having no determining significance. We said that "whoever pays it, it is a tax upon the mortgage, and that is what is forbidden by the law of the United States." 261 U.S. pp. 261 U. S. 378-379. Here also, the tax is imposed upon the mortgage, and is graded according to the amount of the loan, [Footnote 2] and the condition attached to the registration is a practical method of collection. The recording sought was for the protection of the interest of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation. In fact, the mortgage in the instant case was offered for record by the Corporation, and the tax was demanded from the Corporation.

The second suggested distinction rests upon the terms of the Home Owners' Loan Act. That provides [Footnote 3] that the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, its franchise, capital, reserves, and surplus, and its loans and income, shall be exempt from all state or municipal taxes. The critical term, in the present relation, is "loans." We think that this term, in order to carry out the manifest purpose of the broad exemption, should be construed as covering the entire process of lending, the debts which result therefrom, and the mortgages given to the Corporation as security. The Home Owners' Loan Act requires that the loans made by the Corporation "shall be secured by

Page 308 U. S. 32

a duly recorded home mortgage." [Footnote 4] Both the mortgage and its recordation were indispensable elements in the lending operations authorized by Congress. We agree with the state court that there is no sound distinction which makes inapplicable the reasoning which was decisive in the Crosland case.

Alive to this consideration, petitioner advances a broader contention, asking us to review and overrule the Crosland decision as being out of harmony with correct principle. Petitioner insists that the tax is not discriminatory; that it does not impose a burden upon the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, and that, if the Act of Congress be construed as conferring an immunity, it went beyond the power of Congress, as Congress cannot "grant an immunity of greater extent than the constitutional immunity."

We assume here, as we assumed in Graves v. New York ex rel. O'Keefe,306 U. S. 466, that the creation of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation was a constitutional exercise of the congressional power, and that the activities of the Corporation through which the national government lawfully acts must be regarded as governmental functions, and as entitled to whatever immunity attaches to those functions when performed by the government itself through its departments. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 17 U. S. 421-422; Smith v. Kansas City Title Co.,255 U. S. 180, 255 U. S. 208-209; Graves v. New York ex rel. O'Keefe, supra. Congress has not only the power to create a corporation to facilitate the performance of governmental

Page 308 U. S. 33

functions, but has the power to protect the operations thus validly authorized. "A power to create implies a power to preserve." McCulloch v. Maryland, supra, p. 17 U. S. 426. This power to preserve necessarily comes within the range of the express power conferred upon Congress to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States. Const. Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 18. In the exercise of this power to protect the lawful activities of its agencies, Congress has the dominant authority which necessarily inheres in its action within the national field. The Shreveport Case,234 U. S. 342, 234 U. S. 351-352. The exercise of this protective power in relation to state taxation has many illustrations. See, e.g., 74 U. S. Supervisors. 7 Wall. 26, 74 U. S. 31; Choate v. Trapp,224 U. S. 665, 224 U. S. 668-669; Smith v. Kansas City Title Co., supra, p. 255 U. S. 207; Trotter v. Tennessee,290 U. S. 354, 290 U. S. 356; Lawrence v. Shaw,300 U. S. 245, 300 U. S. 249. In this instance, Congress has undertaken to safeguard the operations of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation by providing the described immunity. As we have said, we construe this provision as embracing and prohibiting the tax in question. Since Congress had the constitutional authority to enact this provision, it is binding upon this Court as the supreme law of the land.Const. Art. VI.

The judgment of the state court is

Affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE BUTLER took no part in the consideration and decision of this case.

[Footnote 1]

The Act provides for a "Tax on the Recordation of Instruments in Writing" as follows:

"A tax is hereby imposed upon every instrument of writing recorded or offered for record with the Clerks of the Circuit Courts of the respective Counties, or the Clerk of the Superior Court of Baltimore City, on and after June 1, 1937, to and including September 30th, 1939, including mechanics liens, deeds, mortgages (except purchase money mortgages), chattel mortgages, bills of sale, conditional contracts of sale, leases, confessed judgments, magistrates' judgments, crop liens, deeds of trust, and any and all other instruments of writing, so recorded or offered for record, which create liens or encumbrances on real or personal property, or convey title to real or personal property; provided, however, that said tax shall not apply to assignments of mortgages, purchase money mortgages, absolute or partial releases, or orders of satisfaction."

"The tax hereby imposed shall be at the rate of 10

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