Offutt Housing Company v. County of Sarpy

PETITIONER: Offutt Housing Company
RESPONDENT: County of Sarpy

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)

ARGUED: Apr 26, 1956 / Apr 30, 1956
DECIDED: May 28, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Offutt Housing Company v. County of Sarpy

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 30, 1956 (Part 1) in Offutt Housing Company v. County of Sarpy
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 30, 1956 (Part 2) in Offutt Housing Company v. County of Sarpy

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 26, 1956 in Offutt Housing Company v. County of Sarpy

Earl Warren:

Number 404, Offutt Housing Company versus County of Sarpy.

Mr. Stern.

Robert L. Stern:

May it please the Court.

It is a pleasure to be back here again and to find the Solicitor General and I still on the same side.

This is a suit to enjoin the collection of a property tax by the County of Sarpy in Nebraska against imposed upon a housing project built for military tenants and a military reservation subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of United States.

The taxpayer or petitioner here is a private company which has leased the land and buildings from the United States for a period of 75 years.

It is our contention in this case that this tax is invalid because it is imposed upon territory which is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States and that Congress has not waived the immunity from state taxation of that territory for this project.

And secondly, if the Court should disagree as to that, the only statute which conceivably permits taxation with respect to this project is the one authorizing taxation of the lessee's interest and this tax here was not imposed upon any lessee's interest but on the property itself which belongs to the United States.

The -- the project was directed under the Wherry Military Housing Act of 1949.

William O. Douglas:

What's does the Court mean, it's found at page 199, when it says, “Only plaintiff lessee's interest in the housing project is involved in this debate.”

Robert L. Stern:

I'm not sure what they mean, Your Honor, but I'm sure they're wrong.

Because the uncontradicted evidence is that the -- they assessed their tax to that -- I can tell you what they mean, I -- I shouldn't have said that.

The -- that their opinion as a whole means that they interpret the whole factual language as putting the ownership of these buildings in the petitioner and therefore, they say it is proper to tax the petitioners, lessee -- the lessee, the petitioner as owner of -- of the -- of the -- of the buildings.

And they have to come to that result, Your Honor, in order to sustain the tax because the only Nebraska statute, they sight which would sustain this tax just -- was set forth at page 37 of our brief says, a lot of taxation of this such property to the owner and therefore -- and that's the premise of their decision.

I'll deal with that at some length.

Is the assessment there ready?

Robert L. Stern:

Oh, yes, the assessment form is the -- except that it's copied on page 144 (a), (b) and (c) of the record, the assessment form.

What was -- what was that?

Robert L. Stern:

It says, "Improvements on leased land," down at the bottom.

This is the form the assessor filled up but the -- our client didn't fill out any form because we didn't think we were liable.


But this is what the assessor (Inaudible)

Robert L. Stern:


What -- what was it?

Robert L. Stern:

It's called a schedule for personal property taxes in which he puts down his estimate of the value of these things.

Oh, I see household appliances and so forth.

Robert L. Stern:

Yes, and then down -- further down improvements on leased land.

Oh, yes.

Robert L. Stern:

And then -- the whole thing is under the business classified, apartment house as you can see.

And apart from -- if there's any doubt as to what that means, the assessor himself testified under examination that he was taxing the value of the building.