(Center Square) – U.S. Supreme Court unanimously finds Minnesota county violating conduct after 94-year-old man’s apartment was auctioned for violating the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Declared unanimously.
After being sold for $40,000 in 2016, Hennepin County kept all the rest, minus $15,000 in taxes, fines, and expenses owed by Geraldine Tyler.
Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion, “A taxpayer who loses a $40,000 home to the state to meet a $15,000 tax liability will make a far greater financial contribution than the amount owed. I will have done it,” he said. “The taxpayer must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but not more.”
The county lawsuit filed under a 1935 state law that disqualifies a homeowner for non-payment of property taxes. Roberts noted that Minnesota “recognises that under other circumstances property owners may be entitled to surplus funds in excess of their debts.” He said the county cannot leverage beyond its debt amount.
The judges cited an expropriation clause in the US Constitution that prohibits the government from expropriating private property without just compensation.
Tyler’s outstanding bill is $2,300, plus $12,700 in late fees and penalties.
Attorney Christina Martin of the Pacific Law Foundation argued the case in court.
“Today’s decision is a big win for American property rights,” Martin said. “This ruling confirms that property rights are fundamental and do not depend solely on state law. I clarify.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch, along with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, sought a concurring opinion, referring to the excess fines provision of the U.S. Constitution.
“Economic penalties imposed to deter willful violations of the law are fines by any name,” Gorsuch wrote. “And the Constitution says that there should be no excesses about them.”