The Supreme Court ruled in favor Thursday of a 94-year-old Minnesota grandmother who claimed that the state violated her constitutional rights when they seized her condo over an unpaid tax debt, then sold the property and kept all the sale proceeds — which were far above what she actually owed.
Geraldine Tyler owned a condo which Hennepin County seized as payment for approximately $15,000 in outstanding property taxes, penalties, interest and costs. The home was then sold for $40,000. Under the state's forfeiture laws, the county kept the surplus proceeds - in this case to the tune of $25,000.
Tyler argued that the government violated the Fifth Amendment's "Takings Clause" by confiscating property worth more than the debt owed by the owner. Lower courts ruled against her and dismissed her case, but the Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously sided with her arguments and held that she brought a valid claim under the Takings Clause.
"The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but no more," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's opinion.
"The Takings Clause ‘was designed to bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.’," the opinion stated.
"A taxpayer who loses her $40,000 house to the State to fulfill a $15,000 tax debt has made a far greater contribution to the public fisc than she owed," it said.
The opinion noted that "Minnesota law itself recognizes in many other contexts that a property owner is entitled to the surplus in excess of her debt."... (Read more)
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