SCOTUS unanimously rules against ‘home equity theft’ after states seize homes over back taxes

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a 94-year-old Minnesota grandmother named Geraldine Tyler who had her home seized by the state because she owed $15,000 in back taxes and then sold it for $40,000, keeping the proceeds rather than giving them to the owner… that’s called “home equity theft.”

(Video Credit: KARE 11)

“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 Justice John Roberts wrote in a majority opinion published on Thursday. “The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more.”

The case, Tyler v. Hennepin County (2023) has the potential to now set a precedent in homeowners’ rights when it comes to the seizure of property by the state. This also impacts imminent domain issues.

The associate editor for Reason, Billy Binion, posted a thread about a month ago that explains the case in detail. Of note is the fact that Tyler owed back taxes of $2,300. A further $13,000 was tacked on by the state in penalties, fines, and interest.

“Thread: The Supreme Court is hearing a big case tomorrow. It should unite everyone: left, right & center. And the national press has almost totally ignored it. It centers on an elderly woman who fell behind on her taxes. So the county took her home, sold it, and kept the profit,” Binion wrote, kicking off the thread linking to an article on Reason.

“Her name is Geraldine Tyler. After falling $2,300 behind on her property taxes, the county added $13,000 in penalties, interests & fees. When she couldn’t pay, they seized her condo—valued at $93,000—sold it for $40,000, and kept the leftover $25,000,” the Reason editor continued.

“The Supreme Court will decide if that’s constitutional. It sounds like an easy case. But it has not been. Multiple federal courts ruled against Geraldine, and said the government did nothing wrong by stealing her equity after it satisfied her debt,” he added, recounting how easy it was for the state to take a home the woman had lived in for 11 years.

Binion went on to point out that the seizure of homes has happened repeatedly to people of all ages, particularly with respect to the elderly. And it’s not just happening in Minnesota. Equity theft is taking place across the nation.

“Geraldine is far from the only victim. The stories are nauseating. At 76 years old, Bennie Coleman lost his DC home over a $134 bill. The gov’t sold the $197,000 house & kept the profit. For months, Bennie slept on the porch—with dementia—thinking he’d locked himself out,” he recounted.

“Then there’s Tawanda Hall, who fell $900 behind on a property-tax payment plan for her Michigan home. After penalties, she owed $22,642. The gov’t seized her $300,000 house, sold it, and kept the profit. The surplus totaled $286,000. This is not a joke,” Binion wrote.

He was brutally blunt in pointing out that the state’s pocketing of profits in cases like this is nothing short of actual theft. A crime that would land citizens in jail for years but one that authorities commit without a second thought and with no fear of reprisal.

“Let me put this in perspective. In Michigan, defendants found guilty of stealing over $20,000 face a decade in prison. When the government stole *10 times* that—leaving a mom and her kids completely bankrupt—it was all in a day’s work. Make it make sense,” Binion demanded.

“This preys on the most vulnerable. And the gov’t has gotten away with it, bc people don’t know it’s happening. Well, people need to know. Because if it can happen to them, it can happen to you. SCOTUS should call it what it is: theft, plain & simple,” he concluded.

Not only did the Supreme Court rule unanimously in Tyler’s favor, but it is also an issue that both the left and the right are united on. It boggles the mind that someone thought this case was a good one to litigate as anyone going after an elderly woman over a relatively small tax amount, stealing her home, and then pocketing the difference is the villain in this scenario.

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