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The Buckeye Institute Files Amicus Brief in Support of Property Owners

Aug 16, 2017

Columbus, OH – Today, The Buckeye Institute filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court of the United States to take up the case Wayside Church v. Van Buren County in support of Wayside Church whose private property was taken by the county for pennies on the dollar. With similar laws as Michigan’s, the case also has implications for Ohio property owners.

“There may be times when it is appropriate for government to sell a citizen’s property to pay back taxes, however, that doesn’t mean government has a right to confiscate everything an owner has invested in the property,” said Daniel J. Dew, legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute. “When government pockets anything more than what is owed in back taxes, it is robbery and a blatant violation of the Takings Clause of the Constitution. The fact that this has been primarily used against the poor is especially egregious.”

After Wayside Church fell behind on its 2011 property taxes on a parcel that the church had used as a youth camp, Van Buren County in Michigan took the youth camp property and sold it for $206,000 to pay the church’s $16,750 in taxes, penalties, interest, and fees. The county kept the surplus proceeds – $189,250 – as a windfall. Similarly, the county sold Myron Stahl’s property, where he was building his retirement home, for $68,750 to pay a $25,000 debt. It also sold Henderson Hodgens’ farm and home for $47,750 to pay a $5,900 debt. The county kept the surplus from these sales, as required by Michigan’s General Property Tax Act.

Wayside, Stahl, and Hodgens filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the Van Buren County violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment when it kept the surplus proceeds from the sales of their foreclosed properties. The district court dismissed the suit, however, on appeal the Sixth Circuit panel was divided on its dismissal with Judge Kethledge writing in his dissent, “Congress has granted us jurisdiction over th[e takings] claim. We have a strict duty to exercise that jurisdiction.” He went on to say the county's confiscation of tax sale profits was the “sort of behavior [that] is called theft.”

Wayside Church v. Van Buren County takes on added significance in light of Flint, Michigan’s recent threats to confiscate homes, using Michigan’s tax foreclosure law, from residents who have not paid for the city’s poisonous, lead-laced water services. And in Cincinnati, Ohio, citizens have had property taken for a “rapidly-expanding campaign by the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to seize property through a faster, more aggressive foreclosure process.”

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