Limtiaco v. Camacho

PETITIONER: Alicia G. Limtiaco, Attorney General of Guam
RESPONDENT: Felix P. Camacho, Governor of Guam
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 06-116
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 549 US 483 (2007)
GRANTED: Sep 26, 2006
ARGUED: Jan 08, 2007
DECIDED: Mar 27, 2007

ADVOCATES:
Beth S. Brinkmann - argued the cause for Respondent
Seth P. Waxman - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Governor Camacho of Guam sought to borrow over $400 million through the issuance of bonds. Guam Attorney General Moylan argued that the bond issuance violated the Guam Organic Act, a federal law governing the Territory of Guam. The Organic Act sets the limit for government borrowing to 10% of the "aggregate tax valuation of the property on Guam." The Governor asked the Supreme Court of Guam for a decision on the disputed text. The Guam legislature had interpreted the phrase "aggregate tax valuation" to mean the assessed value of property on Guam for purposes of taxation. However, the Guam Supreme Court declined to follow the legislature's interpretation and ruled that the "aggregate tax valuation" was equivalent to the full appraised value of property on Guam. Under that interpretation, the debt-limit would be about $1.1 billion.

The Attorney General appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While the case was pending, Congress passed a law allowing parties to appeal directly from the Guam Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the Ninth Circuit declined to hear the case, Moylan appealed to the Supreme Court. Normally parties must seek Supreme Court review within 90 days of a lower court's decision, but the case had been pending before the Ninth Circuit for two years. The Supreme Court directed the parties to argue the question of whether the time the case was pending before the Ninth Circuit counted toward the time limit.

Question

1) Did the Supreme Court of Guam err in interpreting the phrase "aggregate tax valuation" in the Guam Organic Act to mean the full value of property on Guam rather than the assessed value for the purposes of taxation?

2) Does the time the case was pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals count toward the time limit for seeking Supreme Court review?

Media for Limtiaco v. Camacho

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 08, 2007 in Limtiaco v. Camacho

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 27, 2007 in Limtiaco v. Camacho

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Thomas has the opinion in case 06-116, Limtiaco versus Camacho.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Guam.

The Guam legislature authorized respondent, the governor of Guam to issue bonds to fund the territory’s continuing obligations.

Petitioner Guam’s Attorney General refused to sign the contracts necessary to issue the bonds because he believed the bonds would violate the debt-limitation provision in Guam’s Organic Act.

Respondent sought a declaration in the Guam Supreme Court that the bond issue would not violate the organic facts debt-limitation and the Guam Supreme Court agreed reasoning that Guam’s debt limit had to be calculated by using the appraised value of property in Guam.

Petitioner initially sought review in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit but after Congress removed the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction over appeals from the courts of Guam, the Court of Appeals dismissed petitioner’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Petitioner then filed a petition for certiorari in this court.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today we reverse the judgment of the Guam Supreme Court.

We hold that the petition for certiorari in this court was timely filed.

Certiorari petitions must be filed within 90 days of the entry of judgment in the lower court.

Although petitioner filed the petition more than 90 days after the Guam’s Supreme Court’s judgment dependency of theappeal before the Court of Appeals suspended the finality of that judgment.

By agreeing to hear petitioner’s appeal, the Court of Appeals raised the possibility that it might modify the judgment or alter the party’s rights.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Guam Supreme Court did not become final for purposes of this court’s review until the Court of Appeals dismiss the appeal.

As to the merits, Guam’s Organic Act limits the territories allow debt to 10% of the aggregate tax valuation of property in the Guam.

The Guam Supreme Court held that the term “tax valuation” in the Organic Act refers to “appraised valuation” not assessed valuation.

The tax valuation most naturally means the “value to which the tax rate is applied” tax valuation must therefore mean “assess valuation” which is then defined as the “valuation of property for purposes of taxation.”

One would not normally refer to a property’s appraised valuation as its tax valuation.

Appraised valuation is simply market value which may or may not relate to taxation.

It is true that Congress could have made its intent clear or even clearer by using the term assess valuation as it did in the debt-limitation provisions for the Virgin Islands.

But if Congress had intended to refer to actual market or appraised value it could have used any of those terms as well.

We therefore hold that Guam’s debt limit must be calculated using assess valuation not appraised valuation.

Justice Souter has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Alito join.