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COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

THE JOHN A. WILSON BUILDING
1350 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, N.W. WASHINGTON, D.C. 20004

August 4,2011
Irvin B. Nathan

Attorney General for the District of Columbia 441 4th Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
Dear Attorney General Nathan:

Thank you for your reply to the request for a legal opinion to analyze and determine, "whether the Tax Clarity Act required collection of recordation tax on the whole debt at the time ofrefinance for purchase money deeds of trust or mortgages."! We hope you will understand our surprise and disappointment when we received your letter dated July 25, 201 i, as it barely addressed the question posed to your office, but discussed at great length a separate question: whether the District of Columbia should consider "litigation to reassess prior payments to seek tax on past recordations." In taking this detour, your office unexpectedly additional amounts of
utilized non-legal analysis by equating the plain meaning of the law and its legislative history, as well as completely ignoring relevant case law on the subject. 2 In short, your legal opinion in response to the question posed was not a legal opinion at all in that it failed to apply well accepted legal principles, as one should expect from the Office of

the Attorney General.

Therefore, we are again requesting a clear statement from your office, supported by appropriate legal authority, to the following question only:
"Does the Tax Clarity Act require that the real property recordation tax

apply on the entire indebtedness for a refinanced deed of trust or mortgage trust or mortgage, an amended and (whether it be in the form ofa new deed of
restated deed of

the original indebtedness was securèd by a corrunercial purchase money mortgage or
trust or mortgage or other documentation of similar import) if

i See Letter from Councilinember David Catania to Attorney General Irvín Nathan, dated June 30, 201 i, attached as
Exhibit A. 2We notice that your letter failed to make any mention of 1137 1 rjh Street Associates, Limited Partnership v. District
of Columbia, 769 A.2d 155 (2001). We can only assume that, since your letter concedes that the plain language of the statute is clear that the recordation tax on the full amount of indebtedness was due, that there was no need to address this case law in support of was to determine if

that conclusion. Nevertheless, as the question presented in the June 2SiIi letter

the recordation tax should have been imposed, we ñnd the absence of any discussion of 1137

19'h Street Associates to be conspicuous.

o

purchase money deed of Code Section 42-1 102(5)?''

trust that was exempt from recordation taxes under D.C.

As further clarification, we are only asking for a legal opinion on refinances of purchase money deeds of trust or mortgages on commercial property, not residential property, and we make the assumption that recordation taxes were not paid on the original indebtedness. For purposes of
brevity, we will hereafter refer to commercial purchase money deeds of trust and commercial

purchase money mortgages as simply, "purchase money loans".

Your July 25, 2011 Response
Your July 25th letter appears to answer the question in the preceding paragraph in the affirmative - i.e. you state, "(0 Jur plain reading ofthe Act, particularly as compared with its former language, suggests that the recordation tax should be assessed on the full amount of the indebtedness, to the extent that no recordation tax was paid on the original indebtedness." However, you then go on for pages about contrary legislative history and address arguments that the District were to decide to collect these taxes. This analysis is used to "could be made" if excuse the OTR's disregard of the plain meaning of the law, but, in fact, this analysis raises even more difficult questions.

In order to be clear as to what we are asking of you, we think it is important to address your July 25th letter which caused us particular concern. some aspects of
. Plain Meaning

While your July 25th letter states that a "plain reading of the Act" requires the collection of recordation tax on the entire indebtedness, you muddy the waters by suggesting that legislative intent can outweigh the plain meaning of the law. In doing so, you offer a tortured account of the actual legislative history of the Act. As a co-author of this letter was one of the the Act, we disagree with your characterization of the legislative intent four co-introducers of and note that your discussion of it is unnecessary in light of the fact that the plain meaning of the
statute is clear.

It is well established that, when the statutory language is plain and unambiguous, the statute must be enforced according to its terms.3 Put another way, courts "must presume that
(the) legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there.',4 Had
your analysis understood this basic legal tenet, or had it been supported by appropriate statutory

law or case law, there would likely be no need for a further request. But the remaining aspects of

your J wy 25th letter open a door that should have been shut by your "plain meaning" analysis and
J See, e.g., Dodd v. United States, 545 U.S. 353, 359 (2005); Lamie v. United States Trustee, 540 U.S. 526, 534
States, 242 U.S. 470, 485 (1917); see also; District of

4 Dodd, supra at 357 (quoting Connecticut Nat'l Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 253-54 (1992)); See also Bedroc

(2004); Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Union Planters Bank, N. A., 530 U.S. 1,6 (2000); Caminetti v. United Columbia v. Gallagher, 734 A.2d 1087, 1091 (D.C. 1999).

Ltd. v. United States, 541 U.S. 176, 183 (2004).

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must now be clarified. This is a consequence of an analysis that does not appreciate that it should "not resort to legislative history to cloud a statutory text that is clear.,,5
. Legislative History

For reasons which are unknown to us, the conclusion to the section titled, "the Act," from your July 25th letter, ends with, "(b)ut that is not the end of the matter for, as you know, when courts interpret legislation they do not end their analysis with the plain language, particularly when the interpretation or implementation of the agency differ from that reading and when contrary legislative history is available." (Emphasis added.) Yet you cite no real evidence of contrary legislative history, but instead proffer several "arguments that could be made" to support the notion that the legislature's silence on this particular provision of the Act equals a
contrary legislative history.

First, neither the Attorney General, nor the District's Chief Financial Officer ("CFO"), should attempt to decipher the intent of the legislature when the law is clear.6 Second, a legislature's silence does not constitute a contrary legislative history. Third, the legislative history of this Act is not silent on this matter and the preponderance of evidence in the legislative history that relates to the mortgage recordation tax expressly recognizes the effects that the change in the plain meaning of the law would have on the commercial real estate community; 7
namely, that it would require the collection of taxes on the full amount of purchase money loans

during a refinance.

That the Council chose not to respond to the concenis raised by members of the commercial real estate community in writing does not mean it was unaware that a change to the
law would have negative tax implications on this community (and therefore, generate additional

tax revenue for the District of Columbia, which was one of the primary reasons for passage of the Tax Clarity Act). There is no requirement that "every permissible application of a statute be
expressly referred to in its legislative history.,,8 Furthermore, had you done even a cursory reading of

the Council's Committee Report on the Act, you would know that not every change proposed by the Act was discussed at length, as the Report addresses just a few of the many changes that would occur from its passage.

S See also Ratzlafv. United States, 510 U.S. 135, 147-48 (1994) which states"... (courts) do not resort to legislative
history to cloud a statutory text that is clear." 6 See e.g., INSv. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 452-53 (1987) (concurring), wherein Justice Scalia explains:
"Judges interpret laws rather than reconstruct legislators' intentions. Where the language of

those laws is clear, we

are not free to replace it with an unenacted legislative intent."
the D.C. Land Title Association and the testimony of the Apartment and Office Building Association in the memorandum dated September 28, 2000, titled, "Report on Bill 13-586, "Tax Clarity Act of 2000" (the "Report"), which is set forth in my letter to you of June 30, 20 i l. l Moskal v. United States, 498 U.S. 103, i 1 1(1990); .See also, Pittston Coal Group v. Sebben, 488 U.S. 105, 115 7 See the testimony of

(1988) ("It is not the law that a statute can have no effects which are not mentioned in its legislative history.").
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Finally, the arguments that could be made in opposition to the retroactive collection of the tax are of no consequence because they all relate to answering a question that has not been asked. Nothing in the request to you asked about the permissibility of retroactively collecting the tax. And in general, arguments that could be made are not contrary evidence as they are "arguments that could be made," and not, "arguments that are made" in the legislative history. Theoretical arguments do not rise to the level of "contrary legislative history," so further discussion of these issues is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the Act requires the collection of these taxes.
. Application of the Act
While your discussion of the legislative history is unwarranted and irrelevant, we are far

more troubled by your review of the application of the Act and the conduct of the CPO after its passage. You treat two emails, neither which of even states the question, statute in as "policy
statements," even though you concede there is no evidence that the content of these emails was

ever disseminated to the public.9 You rely on "anecdotal evidence," but state nothing about what that evidence is. You assume facts to be true about the CFO's actual implementation of the Act that are still in doubt. Most troubling, however, is that if the tax was collected between 2001 and
2007, you have overlooked the most disconcerting aspect of this issue - that the CFO, at his sole

and absolute discretion, stopped collecting a tax that OTR had purportedly collected for six years, without notification to the Council, the Mayor, or the general public and certainly without a change in the widerlying law.

As your letter acknowledges. after passage of the Act. OTR issued two memoranda to the general public, title insurance companies, abstractors and attorneys stating that the recordation tax would be assessed on the entire amount of the indebtedness on the refinance of purchase
money loans. You then make an assumption that, "it appears that the recordation tax on the full

the refinancing was collected in accordance with the interpretation set forth by the DeedsJ in 2001 during the period between the effective date of the Act and mid(Recorder of year 2007." The CFO has repeatedly been asked whether or not the tax was ever collected, and if it was, during what period and when did the collection cease. The responses from the CFO
amount of have been inconsistent at best, and outright contradictory from one another at worst.

In the CFO's initial response to Councilmember Catania in a letter dated June 24, 201110 and in his response to Councilmember Evans in a letter dated June 22, 2011, i i he contends that purchase money loans and the Act did not change the application of the law on refinancing of that, "OTR has since continued to consistently administer the law so as to maintain the
9 Although one of

the emails was sent to an individual outside the CFO's Office, there is no evidence that it was

disseminated to the larger public or characterized as a revised legal interpretation sufficient to change District tax

law.
10 See Exhibit B.
i i See Exhibit C.

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purchase money mortgages.,,12 As he stated in his letter to Councilmember Evans, "(i)n fact, the purpose of the amendment was to clarify existing law that provided for this very same refinance exemption.,,13 At the time, the only conclusion that could have been garnered from Dr. Gandhi's response is that there had been no change to the way the
exemption for the refinance of law had been administered after the passage of the Act.

Because Dr. Gandhi's response was in direct contradiction to the two memoranda from OTR to the general public in 2001, the CFO was asked in a letter dated June 30, 2011,14 to provide written evidence of the retraction of the 2001 memoranda or evidence that the policy stated therein had never been implemented. In Dr. Gandhi's response to this request on July 8, 2011,15 he references an internal email :from July 2007, more than six years after passage of the Act, that contained two sentences, without statutory reference or any suggestion that the implementation of the law had ever been different, that stated only new amounts on purchase money loans are taxable under District law. Dr. Gandhi described this email as, '"the basis for implementing a revised policy and procedure of the Recorder of Deeds with'respect to the
taxation of Recorder of refinances."

16 He provided no written evidence establishing a revision to the

Deeds' policies and procedures. Nor did he provide evidence that the public was

ever notified that the policies dictating how recordation tax would be calculated were changing.
Cleverly, and despite specific requests, the CFO has never stated to the Council that the OTR, at any time, collected recordation taxes on the full amounts of refinanced of purchase money loans. But, his statements and your letter have left us to draw one of two conclusions: either Dr. Gandhi never implemented the changes mandated by passage of the Act and the District of Columbia has not collected untold millions of dollars which it should have since 2001, OR; the Act was correctly implemented between 2001 and 2007 until Dr. Gandhi, unilaterally and without notice to the Council, the Mayor or the general public, ceased collecting a tax that he was required to collect under the Act. We would suggest to you that neither of these conclusions
is remotely acceptable and that the latter is likely a breach of a massive legal liability for the District.17 Dr. Gandhi's duties and represents

Additional Questions

We will continue to press the CFO to deliver concrete evidence to the Council so that we can make a determination of what the practice of his office has been with respect to this tax over
the last ten years. However, in addition to a responsive legal opinion from you to the initial

question, we also request from you a legal opinion on the following matters:
12 See Exhibit B, p. 1.

13 Ibid., p.2.

14 See Exhibit D.
15 See Exhibit E.
16 Ibid.

17 Presumably, under this scenario, taxpayers who paid recordation taXes between 200 I and 2007 based on the 2001
guidance issued by the Recorder of Deeds will seek remedies from the District for their payment of

these taxes.

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(1) Does the Chief

Financial Officer have legal authority to set forth a "policy" which, by the application of such policy, is contrary to the plain reading of a law?

(2) Does the Chief Financial Officer have the legal authority to unilaterally change the application of the law as a "policy" decision, without notice to the Councilor the Mayor?
the recordation tax laws and the amounts which should be collected are not policy decisions. We believe that the law, depending on which version of the
It is our fervent belief that application of truth from Dr. Gandhi we accept, has either never been implemented by OTR or that the law was implemented by OTR and Dr. Gandhi made a choice to stop collecting the recordation tax

without consulting the Councilor the Mayor, or asking for a change in the underlying statute.
It is our hope that a revised legal opinion addressing only the question of

whether or not

the Act requires the collection of the taxes on the full amount of purchase money loans and the preceding questions relating to the authority of the CFO to set or change tax policy regardless of the plain meaning of the law can be delivered to our offices no later than September 6, 201 1, so that we can take this matter up expeditiously when the Council is back in session on September
15,2011.

Sincerely,

t4(Jr

MaryCheh
Councilmember, Ward 3 Chair, Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation

Councilmember, At -Large
Chair, Committee on Health

cc: Mayor Vincent C. Gray

Dr. Natwar M. Gandhi, Chief Financial Officer All Councilmembers

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