In a rare move, a court restored a case after its arguments had been rejected all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s because the Supreme Court has agreed to rule in another case with similar circumstances, and the lower court admitted that without further review, there could be a great injustice.
It was U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney in Michigan who wrote of “the potential for inequity” in the case brought by Wayside Church against the county government.
The church charges the county unlawfully has kept $189,250 that belongs to the church.
The Pacific Legal Foundation explained that when Wayside Church fell behind on its 2011 property taxes on a parcel that the church had used as a youth camp, Van Buren County took the youth camp property and sold it for $206,000 to pay the church’s $16,750 in taxes, penalties, interest and fees.
Then, in addition to what was due, the county kept every penny of what it got for the land.
The county also was accused of selling Henderson Hodgens’ childhood farm and home for $47,750 to pay a $5,900 debt. And, according to the complaint, it sold Myron Stahl’s property, where he was building his retirement home, for $68,750 to pay a $25,000 debt.
“The county kept all the proceeds from each of these sales. Each former owner lost everything,” Pacific Legal said.
The church sued, arguing the Constitution requires the government to pay just compensation when it takes private property.
The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding the Takings Clause does not protect taxpayers and that Michigan’s law does not recognize that right.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals did the same thing, and the Supreme Court declined to intervene at the time.
But a few months later, the Supreme Court agreed to reconsider Williamson County in Knick v. Township of Scott, the foundation said.
PLF’s Dave Breemer argued that case before the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 3, 2018, and again on Jan. 16, 2019. It focuses on a woman’s contention that her local government owes her payment because officials arbitrarily demanded that she consider her property a public land because there may have been a historic grave there.
“But what about Wayside Church, Stahl, and Hodgens? Shouldn’t they be allowed back in federal court? That’s exactly what we asked the federal trial court last year when we filed a motion to reopen the federal case,” the foundation said.
“Such motions are rare, and even more rarely granted. But this week, the trial court granted the motion. The court reopened the case, stating that the Sixth Circuit’s decision was based on law that may soon change (Knick) and a wrong assumption about the remedies available in Michigan courts.”
WND reported when the church’s case first developed a judge took officials in Van Buren County to task with a stunning charge.
“In some legal precincts that sort of behavior is called theft,” wrote Judge Raymond Kethledge in his dissent of a 2-1 decision Feb. 10 in favor of Van Buren County by a three-court panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Kethledge, according to the ABA Journal, is believed to be on President Trump’s list of potential candidates for future openings on the U.S. Supreme Court. The report said Trump and Kethledge have one thing in common – “blunt opinions.”
The majority opinion determined the district court lacked jurisdiction, and the plaintiffs must pursue their claims in Michigan state court. However, the latest decision reverses that ruling.
The Michigan property was used as a camp for inner-city children by the church, a historically black congregation on the South Side of Chicago.
County officials denied to WND there was any profit, saying instead it was only money in excess of the amount of taxes owed.
Van Buren Treasurer Karen Makay has told WND, “We are not confiscating property.”
She explained the county confiscates property to take ownership, then sells a number of properties at one time.
Kethledge pulled no punches in describing the case.
“At this point one senses we have lost our constitutional bearings,” he charged. “The plaintiffs have asked us to adjudicate a claim arising under the federal Constitution, which is the most important type of claim that we can adjudicate. The claim itself is substantial: that, when a state takes fee simple to property in satisfaction of a tax obligation, the state effects a taking to the extent the property is worth more than the taxes and penalties owed.”