The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is being petitioned by several small property owners in Michigan who argue that they were victimized by the state’s abusive foreclosure law that allows the local government to steal their property and make hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit off of them.
Represented by Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) the property owners’ appeal is asking SCOTUS justices to review and strike down the problematic Michigan General Property Tax Act – a law that permits the local government to seize and sell peoples’ property because of their overdue taxes, while keeping any extra profits from the sales for itself … like ordinary thieves.
“Michigan’s General Property Tax Act allows bureaucrats to take more than their due when they go after people for unpaid property taxes,” PLF attorney Christina Martin stated in her nonprofit legal group’s press release last week. “In other words, this law transforms the foreclosure process into an engine of government-sanctioned theft in order to line government coffers. That’s unjust and unconstitutional.”
The petitioners in the lawsuit reflect a group of property owners in Michigan’s Van Buren County who suffered during the last recession – a cross section of people who were putting their properties to good use.
“Wayside Church (based in Chicago) owned and operated a parcel in Van Buren County as a youth camp,” the PLF release informed. “Myron Stahl owned a residential lot where he was building his retirement home. Henderson Hodgens owned a 20-acre farm with a home.”
The government swiftly seized and sold their properties when they suffered financial hardships – acting as opportunists … and common crooks.
“All fell on hard times and were unable to pay their 2011 property taxes,” the release added. “Van Buren County responded by invoking the Michigan General Property Tax Act to take and sell the properties.”
Acting as land pirates, the government profited off of the land owners’ demise – making hundreds of thousands of dollars off of their misfortune.
“In each case, the sale generated far more than the tax debt,” PLF pointed out. “But rather than simply keep the amount needed to satisfy the debt and refund the remainder to the owners, the county pocketed all the proceeds. All told, it garnered $274,850 in after-debt profits from the three sales.”
One hard-working land owner had property snatched from him that went back generations – land that was seized so that the government could cash in.
“Hodgens, a bus driver, owed $5,900 in back taxes, penalties, interest and fees on his farm – the property where he grew up and which he always intended and hoped to keep,” PLF attorneys explained. “He fell behind on taxes because of an injury. He was shocked to learn not only that the county sold his property, but realized a windfall nearly eight times the amount of his tax debt, and didn’t refund him a penny of those excess proceeds.”
The only thing that Hodgens has left to remind him of his farm is his old, broken-down tractor.
“It’s something that reminds me of my dad – reminds me of my property,” the former property owner shared with PLF. “At least they can’t take this from me – I don’t think.”
Van Buren County also took away a youth camp parcel from Wayside Church – profiting more than 12 times ($180,000) the church’s tax debt of $16,500. However, Wayside Church Deacon Reginald Hill is not without hope.
“This case is our last hope,” Hill expressed, according to PLF. “It is so good to know that PLF is looking out for us and fighting for us. PLF is a real guardian of the people’s rights, and we are thankful.”
Standing on the Constitution
PLF attorneys argue that federal courts should not abandon their duty of righting unconstitutional dealings involving the theft of citizens’ property at the hand of the local government.
“The current case challenges this government self-enrichment as an unconstitutional taking,” lawyers from PLF maintain. “However, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit, on a 2–1 vote, declined even to consider this argument. Citing a controversial Supreme Court procedural precedent known as Williamson County, the majority held that such takings lawsuits must begin in state court, not federal courts.”
The exact amounts reaped by the defendants and kept from the plaintiffs in each of the three cases are as follows:
“Wayside Church’s former property had a minimum bid of $16,750, but sold for $206,000,” the Justia Opinion Summary of the federal lawsuit reads. “The minimum bid for the Stahl property was $25,000; the property sold for $68,750. The Hodgens property required a minimum bid of $5,900, but sold for $47,750.”
Even though it initially appeared that the property owners would be compensated in the early stages of the lawsuit –according to a ruling upholding the Constitution – the Sixth Circuit court denied them justice as the case moved forward.
“Plaintiffs sought return of the surplus funds, citing 42 U.S.C. 1983, and alleging that they had a cognizable property interest in their foreclosed properties and in the surplus proceeds generated by the sales, so that Defendants were required to pay just compensation under the Fifth Amendment,” the summary continued. “The Sixth Circuit vacated dismissal for failure to state a claim and remanded for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”
Now, the nation’s highest court is under pressure to uphold the United States Constitution, protect the rights of property owners, and hold government officials accountable for their criminal behavior.
“These plaintiffs have had their constitutional property rights denied, and they should not have the doors of the federal courts shut in their faces,” Martin insisted. “We are asking the Supreme Court to take this appeal, recognize that federal courts should be fully open to people seeking the protection of the Constitution, and issue a clear ruling that foreclosure cannot be abused to enrich government by impoverishing struggling property owners.”
PLF President and CEO Steven Anderson has no intention of letting the government get away with stealing citizens’ property like a pack of thieves.
“This case highlights PLF’s indispensable role in vindicating property rights and challenging bureaucratic injustice — especially when the victims lack the means to fight back on their own,” Anderson asserted in the release. “It presents an unsavory picture of government operating like Robin Hood in reverse, taking advantage of vulnerable people in their time of greatest hardship.”
When the county seized and sold the plaintiffs’ property, Van Buren County officials would not admit that the county profited from the sale, insisting that the money it made was merely an amount in excess of the amount of taxes owed.
Van Buren Treasurer Karen Makay even denied seizing the plaintiffs’ land.
“We are not confiscating property,” Makay told WND at the time, maintaining that the county confiscates property to assume ownership before selling multiple properties simultaneously.
She then conceded that on occasion, the land could sell for more money than the amount owed in taxes – and sometimes less than the amount – but admitted no wrongdoing, explaining the county’s frivolous actions against the property owners away.
“We have followed the law to the letter,” she claimed, according to WND. “[However,] there was more from the sales than were taxes owing. We are not their real estate agent. We own the property. We can sell it for the taxes.”
Copyright American Family News. Reprinted with permission.