Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

May 21, 2013

Court rules for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac in Oakland lawsuit

DETROIT (AP) — A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and threw out tax claims by Oakland County against the federally charted mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In an opinion released Monday, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati determined that Oakland County tried to “get around the plain language” in a federal law exempting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from transfer taxes.

Oakland County officials sued Fannie and Freddie Mac in 2011 in Detroit federal court, saying they illegally avoided as much as $1.5 million in taxes when filing real estate documents.

The mortgage companies said they’re exempt as government entities. In March 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts ruled on the county’s side.

The appeals court on Monday ordered Roberts to grant the lenders summary judgment.

Genesee County and the state also were part of the lawsuit.

Oakland County plans to appeal.

“We always thought this case would end up in the Supreme Court,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said in a release. “We’ll continue the fight on behalf of our taxpayers because Fannie and Freddie owe county and Michigan taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Oakland County argued that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not government entities and that the federal law exemption claimed by the lenders does not apply to transfer taxes.

The lenders’ charters make clear the intended positions on taxes, according to the appeals court.

“When Congress created defendants, it expressly exempted them from all state and local taxes except for taxes on real property,” it said in its opinion. “ ... a straightforward reading of the statute leads to the unremarkable conclusion that when Congress said ‘all taxation,’ it meant all taxation.”

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