|SCOTUS rules that states are not entitled to windfall in tax disputes|
The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that government agencies that seize private property to satisfy delinquent taxes can’t keep the surplus if it sells for more than the taxpayer owes. The case came from Minneapolis, where Hennepin County officials seized and sold 94-year-old Geraldine Tyler's condominium after she accrued $15,000 in penalties and delinquent taxes for failing to pay the property tax bill for five years. The apartment sold for $40,000 and county officials contended that they could keep the $25,000 difference because Minnesota law extinguished the owner’s interest in the property. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts cited legal precedents dating to Magna Carta, when in 1215 the English barons forced King John to swear that the remainder of a dead man’s property must be returned to the estate after tax debts are satisfied. In America, Roberts observed, most states followed that principle with laws requiring that officials return the surplus after seized property is sold for tax debts. “The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more,” he wrote. Christina Martin, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents Ms. Tyler, called the decision “a major victory for property rights in the United States,” adding “The court’s ruling . . . makes clear that home equity theft is not only unjust, but unconstitutional.” The case is Tyler v. Hennepin County.