Massachusetts v. United States

PETITIONER: Massachusetts
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Tellico Dam

DOCKET NO.: 76-1500
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 435 US 444 (1978)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1977
DECIDED: Mar 29, 1978

ADVOCATES:
Allan A. Ryan, Jr. - Argued the cause for the United States
Terence P. O'Malley - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1970, Congress imposed an annual registration tax on all civil aircraft that fly in the navigable airspace of the United States. The state of Massachusetts owned and utilized a helicopter for the purpose of patrolling highways and fulfilling other police duties. When Massachusetts refused to pay the tax, the federal government collected it from the state's accounts, plus interest and penalties. Massachusetts then sought a refund of the money collected.

Question

Did the tax on civil aircraft violate the implied immunity of state governments from federal taxation?

Media for Massachusetts v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1977 in Massachusetts v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 29, 1978 in Massachusetts v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinions of the court in Massachusetts against the United States and in the case of City of Lafayette against Louisiana Power and Light company will each be announced by Mr. Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Massachusetts v. the United States is here on certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The Airport and Airway Revenue Act of 1970, a federal statute imposes an annual flat fee registration tax on all civil aircraft, including such aircraft owned by the States and by the Federal Government, that fly in the navigable airspace of the United States.

That tax was imposed upon a helicopter owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and used by the state in the state police work.

The Commonwealth instituted this action contending that the United States may not constitutionally impose a tax that directly affects the central and traditional state function of uprating a police force.

The Court of Appeals held that the registration tax was a user fee and therefore did not implicate the constitutional doctrine of the implied immunity of state governments from federal taxation.

We affirm, the opinion I have filed for the court is joined in its entirety by Justices White, Marshall and Stevens, but Justices Stewart and Powell joined only parts 1, 2c and 3, They have filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion and Mr. Chief Justice has joined, Mr. Justice Blackmun took no part in the decision or consideration of the case.