NATIONAL NEWS

Supreme Court seems to favor woman who got $0 in condo sale

Apr 25, 2023, 9:36 PM | Updated: Apr 26, 2023, 9:56 am

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen on Friday, April 21, 2023, in Washington. The Supreme Court on Apr...

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen on Friday, April 21, 2023, in Washington. The Supreme Court on April 26 will hear the case of a 94-year-old woman who lost her one-bedroom condo over unpaid taxes. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seemed likely Wednesday to give a 94-year-old Minneapolis woman another day in court to try to recoup some money after the county kept the entire $40,000 when it sold her condominium over a small unpaid tax bill.

The justices seemed in broad agreement with arguments by the lawyer for Geraldine Tyler that Hennepin County, Minnesota, violated the Constitution’s prohibition on the taking of private property without “just compensation.”

“At bottom, she’s saying the county took her property and made a profit on her surplus equity. It belongs to her,” Justice Clarence Thomas said.

Tyler, who now lives in an apartment building for older people, owed $2,300 in unpaid taxes, plus interest and penalties, when the county took title to the one-bedroom apartment in 2015. The county said she did nothing to hold onto her one-time residence. The apartment sold the next year.

Justices Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch said the county’s position appeared to be that it could seize million-dollar properties over tiny tax bills.

Neal Katyal, representing the county, said Tyler made clear she wanted nothing to do with the condo in the five years she owed back taxes.

“Why on earth would she walk away from her home? The reason, we think, is there was no equity in her home,” Katyal said. The justices could leave it to a lower court to sort out the money details.

Katyal tried to appeal to the conservative justices in particular by references to history and the invocation of the court’s recent rulings expanding gun rights.

But there didn’t appear to be any takers in the court’s final arguments until its new term begins in October.

Minnesota is among roughly a dozen states and the District of Columbia that allow local jurisdictions to keep the excess money, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Tyler at the Supreme Court.

At least 8,950 homes were sold because of unpaid taxes and the former owners received little or nothing in those states between 2014 and 2021, according to Pacific Legal, a not-for-profit public interest law firm focused on property rights.

Other states are: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and South Dakota, the group said.

There has been no explanation about why Tyler stopped paying her property taxes when she moved from the condo, where she had lived since 1999. She moved for “health and safety” reasons, Pacific Legal said.

The county said in court papers that Tyler could have sold the property and kept whatever was left after paying off the mortgage and taxes, refinanced her mortgage to pay the tax bill or signed up for a tax payment plan.

Instead, she did nothing for five years, the county said, until after authorities followed state law and sold the condo. The county wrote: Tyler believes “the Constitution required the State to serve as her real estate agent, sell the property on her behalf, and write a check for the difference between the tax debt and the fair market value.”

Lower courts sided with the county before the justices agreed to step in.

Minnesota and a handful of states and government associations are backing the county, warning that a Supreme Court ruling could tie the hands of local governments that rely on property taxes.

But the bulk of support in court filings is with Tyler, including AARP, business groups, real estate interests and other people who have gone through experiences similar to hers.

A Massachusetts man described his ongoing fight with authorities over a tax bill of $900 on a property he says is worth at least $330,000 in a beach town on Cape Cod Bay. In a filing from New York, property tax attorney David Wilkes and legal services groups wrote that New York’s rules “excessively takes far more than what is due to the government and go well beyond an appropriate deterrent to those homeowners who would ignore a tax delinquency.”

The Biden administration told the court that Tyler’s claim that her property was taken without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, is the stronger of her arguments.

Tyler also is raising a claim that Minnesota’s law violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines. But if the court rules in her favor based on the Fifth Amendment, it wouldn’t have to decide the other issue.

Not until 2019 did the Supreme Court rule that the “excessive fines” clause applied to the states as well as the federal government.

A decision in Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota, 22-166, is expected by late June.

National News

Associated Press

High school president writes notes thanking fellow seniors — 180 of them

Emily Post would be proud. A high school class president in Massachusetts who gave a commencement speech wanted to recognize all of his fellow graduates. So he wrote them personal thank-you notes presented at the ceremony — 180 to be exact. “I wish I could’ve acknowledged you all, but there was simply not enough time,” […]

54 minutes ago

Associated Press

AP-NORC poll: About half of US adults approve of Trump’s conviction, but views of him remain stable

NEW YORK (AP) — About half of U.S. adults approve of Donald Trump’s recent felony conviction, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey shows some potential vulnerabilities, along with some signs of resilience in his support, as Trump tries to become the first American with a felony […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge faces inquiry after Illinois attorney was kicked out of court and handcuffed to chair

CHICAGO (AP) — Cook County’s top judge has asked state regulators to review allegations that an attorney was handcuffed to a chair after a judge kicked him out of her courtroom. Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans referred misconduct allegations against Judge Kathy Flanagan to the state Judicial Inquiry Board on Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times […]

3 hours ago

jerry west...

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the NBA logo, dies at 86

Jerry West, a three-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee whose silhouette is considered to be the basis of the NBA logo, died Wednesday morning.

3 hours ago

Associated Press

One of several South Dakota baseball players charged in rape case pleads guilty to lesser felony

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — One of the several former players on an American Legion baseball team in South Dakota charged last year with rape has pleaded guilty to a lesser felony. The 19-year-old former Mitchell player pleaded guilty to one count of accessory to a felony, according to court documents cited by KELO-TV on Tuesday. […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Biden and Zelenskyy will sign a security agreement between the US and Ukraine when they meet at G7

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) — President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will sign a bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Ukraine on Thursday when they meet on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in Italy, aiming to send a signal to Russia of American resolve in supporting Kyiv, the White […]

4 hours ago

Supreme Court seems to favor woman who got $0 in condo sale