Minnesota Republicans filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court this month in support of a 94-year-old widow who had the entire value of her home seized by Hennepin County after she failed to pay $15,000 in property taxes.
The high court announced in January that it would hear the case of Geraldine Tyler, a grandmother who moved from her one-bedroom condo in Minneapolis in 2010 for a safer neighborhood.
The property taxes piled up, reaching $15,000 in debt, penalties, and fees by 2015. Hennepin County seized the property, sold it for $40,000, and pocketed the $25,000 difference.
“Despite the law’s guarantee of just compensation for our property, more than 1,200 Minnesota families have had their home equity stolen by state property seizures like the one Ms. Tyler experienced. We are proud to stand against this unconstitutional infringement and fight for the Fifth Amendment rights of every American,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who led the amicus brief with Minnesota’s GOP delegation.
The Pacific Legal Foundation sued the county on Tyler’s behalf in 2019, arguing that its actions violated the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. Both a district court judge and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the county.
Precedent recognizes that “once a debtor’s debt is paid, any remainder is his,” the amicus brief states.
“Minnesota disavows this history through legislative fiat by turning Minnesotans’ surplus proceeds into public property owned by the State,” it says.
“When a State helps itself to a nonagenarian widow’s property without so much as an apology — let alone just compensation — that is a dark day for our Constitution. The County paints this as a byproduct of legitimate tax collection efforts. But gratuitously taking money a taxpayer never owed is not tax collection; it is theft. And the Takings Clause squarely prohibits it,” the brief continues.
According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, Minnesota homeowners on average owe 8% of their home’s value when their homes are tax-forfeited.
“It is disgraceful that state and county governments are able to seize a person’s home, sell it, and pocket the equity that rightfully belongs to the property owner,” said U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad. “I am proud to join my colleagues in fighting for the rights of Ms. Tyler and the thousands of Americans who have suffered home equity theft at the hands of government greed.”
Oral arguments in the case will begin on April 26.