Fair Assessment in Real Estate Assn., Inc. v. McNary

PETITIONER: Fair Assessment in Real Estate Assn., Inc.
RESPONDENT: McNary
LOCATION: Richmond, VA

DOCKET NO.: 80-427
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 454 US 100 (1981)
ARGUED: Oct 05, 1981
DECIDED: Dec 01, 1981

ADVOCATES:
David J. Newburger - on behalf of the Petitioners
Thomas W. Wehrle - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Fair Assessment in Real Estate Assn., Inc. v. McNary

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 05, 1981 in Fair Assessment in Real Estate Assn., Inc. v. McNary

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 01, 1981 in Fair Assessment in Real Estate Assn., Inc. v. McNary

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion in Number 80-427, Fair Assessment in Real Estate Association against McNary and 80-1377, Weinberger against the Catholic Action of Hawaii will each be announced by Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

In Fair Assessment in Real Estate, the petitioners are individual taxpayers in St. Louis County, Missouri and an association formed by taxpayers to promote the equitable enforcement of Missouri property tax laws.

They claimed that St. Louis County tax officials denied them the equal protection of law under the Fourteenth Amendment by taxing new property at higher rates and older property and retaliating against taxpayers who sought administrative adjustment of their taxes by targeting those taxpayers for reassessment the following year.

Petitioners asserted their claim in Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri under the Civil Rights Act 42 U.S.C. 1983 seeking an award of money damages for these alleged violations of their constitutional rights.

Before suing in federal court, some of the petitioners had successfully sought some relief in Missouri courts and in administrative review proceedings which Missouri provides.

The District Court dismissed petitioners' complaint holding that federal court adjudication of state tax matters is barred by the Tax Injunction Act, which forbids federal courts from enjoining, suspending or restraining the assessment, levy or collection of taxes and by the principle of comity between State and federal courts.

The Court of Appeals affirmed by an equally divided vote because we decide that such damages actions are barred by the principle of comity.

We need not decide whether they are also barred by the Tax Injunction Act.

The decisions of this Court since before enactment of the Tax Injunction Act and even before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act have recognized the sensitive nature of state tax systems and the deference they should be accorded in federal courts.

The passage of the Tax Injunction Act in 1937 did not restrict this recognized comity and decisions of this Court since its enactment have held on the basis of comity that federal courts may not render declaratory judgments as to the validity of state tax laws.

Because we conclude the petitioners’ damages action would be everybody’s intrusive in the Missouri tax administration as with the declaratory judgments or other forms of equitable relief which have in part in the past been barred.

We hold the damages actions brought under Section 1983 to redress the unconstitutional enforcement of state tax laws are also barred by the principle of comity.

Justice Brennan joined by Justice Marshall, Justice Stevens and Justice O’Connor have filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment.