May 25, 2023

Supreme Court Decides Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota

On May 25, 2023, the Supreme Court decided Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota, No. 22-166, holding that, upon seizure of their real property for unpaid property taxes, the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not allow Minnesota to appropriate more than it is owed.

After appellant Geraldine Tyler accumulated $15,000 in overdue county real property taxes (including penalties and interest) on her condominium, Hennepin County, Minnesota, followed a statutorily prescribed process to seize, and ultimately to sell, Tyler’s condominium. The County profited approximately $25,000 from the sale after satisfying Tyler’s delinquent tax bill associated with the property. Instead of remitting those proceeds to Tyler, the County retained them for use by government entities.

Tyler sued the County, on behalf of a putative class, alleging that the County’s retention of the excess proceeds violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the Government from taking private property for public use without just compensation, and the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Minnesota District Court dismissed Tyler’s suit, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed that decision. The appellate court rejected Tyler’s Fifth Amendment Claim because it concluded that, under Minnesota state law, Tyler had no property interest in the profits the County obtained from the sale of her condominium. And it concluded Tyler could assert no claim under the Eighth Amendment because the County’s forfeiture proceeding was remedial rather than punitive. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and unanimously reversed.

Initially, the Court found that Ms. Tyler had standing and then confirmed that the Takings Clause protects private property interests beyond those defined by state law, looking to history and its own precedent in determining the scope of those protected property rights. It observed that historical practice, brought to this country from England, limited the amount the Government could take to what it was owed and that the majority of states had consistently and still followed that practice. Moreover, Minnesota had recognized that principle at other times and in other laws, as did the Court’s own precedent. Accordingly, the Court held that Tyler had a protected property right in the excess value of her condominium the County had seized. It rejected the County’s argument that Tyler’s failure to pay county property taxes entitled the County to deem Tyler to have constructively abandoned her condominium. Consequently, it found Tyler’s allegations that the County retained that excess value without justly compensating her sufficiently stated a claim under the Takings Clause. Because Tyler agreed that her Fifth Amendment claim, if successful, would afford her complete relief for her injuries, the Court (except in concurrence) declined to address Tyler’s Eighth Amendment claim.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for the Court. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Jackson joined.

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