The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tyler v. Hennepin County was a win for 94-year-old Geraldine Tyler, who moved from a condo to a senior living facility after crime spiked in her neighborhood and lost her condo to government overreach. It could have positive repercussions for Michigan residents.
Tyler did not pay taxes on her condo after she left, resulting in $2,300 in taxes owed. By 2015, she had accumulated $13,000 in interest and penalties, totaling $15,000 in debt. Hennepin County sold her condo for $40,000 to settle her debt, in a move allowed under law. But the county kept the extra $25,000 for its own use, which the Supreme Court ruled a violation of the takings clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but no more,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the unanimous court, in a decision announced on May 25. This is a significant victory for property rights and is likely to benefit a father and daughter who ran afoul of Wayne County for an insufficient tax payment.
Erica Perez and her father purchased a house in Detroit for $60,000 in 2012, with hopes of updating it, repairing it and renting it out. She planned to move to Detroit once her father retired.
Perez and her father paid their property taxes every year, but they unknowingly were short $144 in their 2014 tax payment. Wayne County sold the property in 2017 for $108,000 and pocketed every cent beyond what Perez owed in taxes, interest, and fees. That is over 200 times what Perez owed.
Unfortunately, this was legal under Michigan State law, specifically, under Michigan’s General Property Tax Act. Perez and her family filed a federal lawsuit in July 2019 challenging this law.
The Mackinac Center is working with Pacific Legal Foundation in this case, serving as the local counsel to fight this unconstitutional home equity theft in court. The Pacific Legal Foundation, which also represented Tyler, helps Americans fight against government overreach and abuse.
Perez and her family hoped to achieve the American Dream, but they were paralyzed by government, all over $144 in unpaid taxes.
“We’ve always believed that if you work hard for something in this country, you can achieve it,” Erica said. Unjust government overreach in the form of an unconstitutional law has made it much more difficult for Perez and her family to attain this dream.
Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer Christina Martin said of the Tyler case, "This decision affirms that property rights are fundamental and don’t depend solely on state law. The court’s ruling makes clear that home equity theft is not only unjust, but unconstitutional.”
Perez and her family may be vindicated, after all. The Mackinac Center hopes there will be justice for her and for individuals across the country who have not been compensated justly when the government seizes their property.
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The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
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