Supreme Court Rules for 94-Year-Old Woman Whose Seized Home Was Sold for More Than Her Tax Debt
Geraldine Tyler owed $15,000 but got nothing back from the $40,000 sale price
A 94-year-old woman scored a big win Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Minnesota officials violated her constitutional rights by keeping $40,000 in proceeds after selling her condo over a $15,000 tax bill.
The unanimous decision overturned a series of lower courts that previously ruled against Geraldine Tyler.
It also gives her the chance to recoup some of the money that Hennepin County pocketed without providing her with "just compensation" under the Fifth Amendment's "Takings Clause."
"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," Chief Judge John Roberts wrote.
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"The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more."
Tyler owed $2,300 in taxes, plus interest and penalties when the county seized her one-bedroom apartment in 2015.
Hennepin County argued that she did nothing to try to keep it after moving out and the apartment was sold the following year.
But the high court rejected arguments that Tyler could have paid her tax bill by selling the property, refinancing her mortgage or signing up for a payment plan.
“The County had the power to sell Tyler’s home to recover the unpaid property taxes," Roberts wrote.
"But it could not use the toehold of the tax debt to confiscate more property than was due."
It's unclear why Tyler stopped paying her taxes after relocating to an apartment building for older people.
The nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented her, said she moved for "health and safety" reasons.
Minnesota is one of only a dozen states and the District of Columbia that allow local governments to keep the profits after selling seized property, according to Pacific Legal.
The former owners of at least 8,950 homes there received little or no money after their properties were sold over unpaid taxes between 2014 and 2021, the group said.
The other states are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and South Dakota, it said.
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