Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition for review of the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court granting the City of Austin's plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing this case brought by Plaintiff alleging that the City provided taxpayer money to abortion-assistance organizations in violation of Texas law, holding that the case must be remanded.The trial court granted the City's plea to the jurisdiction without explaining its reasons and dismissed with prejudice Petitioner's claim that the City's budget violated Texas law and dismissed with prejudice Petitioner's claim that the City's 2019 budget violated the Gift Clause. The court of appeals affirmed, relying on the Supreme Court's holding in Roe to conclude that Petitioner's claim could not proceed. Petitioner petitioned for review. After briefing was complete, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022). The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition for review without regard to the merits and vacated the judgments below, holding that, because Dobbs overruled Roe, remand was required for consideration of the effect this change in the law and any intervening factual developments on Petitioner's claims. View "Zimmerman v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court holding that International Paper Co. had established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the County of Isle of Wight's tax scheme violated the requirement of the Virginia Constitution that taxation be uniform, holding that the circuit court did not err.In 2017, the County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution authorizing an "economic development retention grant program" that would benefit certain taxpayers. International Paper filed a refund action alleging that the County's tax and retention grant scheme violated the uniformity requirement of the Virginia Constitution. The circuit court granted judgment in favor of International Paper, concluding that the County's tax scheme created an unconstitutional non-uniform tax. View "County of Isle of Wight v. International Paper Co." on Justia Law

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Oakland County took title to the plaintiffs’ homes under the Michigan General Property Tax Act, which (after a redemption period) required the state court to enter a foreclosure judgment that vested “absolute title” to the property in the governmental entity upon payment of the amount of the tax delinquency or “its fair market value.” The entity could then sell it at a public auction. No matter what the sale price, the property’s former owner had no right to any of the proceeds.In February 2018, under the Act, Oakland County foreclosed on Hall’s home to collect a tax delinquency of $22,642; the County then conveyed the property to the City of Southfield for that price. Southfield conveyed the property for $1 to a for-profit entity, the Southfield Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which later sold it for $308,000. Other plaintiffs had similar experiences.The plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The “Michigan statute is not only self-dealing: it is also an aberration from some 300 years of decisions.” The government may not decline to recognize long-established interests in property as a device to take them. The County took the property without just compensation. View "Hall v. Meisner" on Justia Law

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To dispute a property tax assessment under Detroit ordinances and Michigan state law, taxpayers “make complaint on or before February 15th" before the Board of Assessors. Any person who has complained to the Board of Assessors may appeal to the Board of Review. For the Michigan Tax Tribunal to have jurisdiction over an assessment dispute, “the assessment must be protested before the board of review.” On February 14, 2017, Detroit mailed tax assessment notices to Detroit homeowners, including an “EXTENDED ASSESSORS REVIEW SCHEDULE” that would conclude on February 18, just four days later. At a City Council meeting on February 14, the city announced: “The Assessors Review process will end this year February the 28th.” News outlets reported the extension and that Detroit had waived the requirement of appearance before the Board of Assessors so residents could appeal directly to the Board of Review. Detroit did not distribute individualized mailings to so inform homeowners.Plaintiffs filed a class action, alleging violations of their due process rights; asserting that Michigan’s State Tax Commission assumed control of Detroit’s flawed property tax assessment process from 2014-2017 so that its officials were equally responsible for the violations; and claiming that Wayne County is “complicit” and has been unjustly enriched. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, citing the Tax Injunction Act and the principle of comity. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that a state remedy is uncertain. View "Howard v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Tyler owned a Minneapolis condominium. She stopped paying her property taxes and accumulated a tax debt of $15,000. To satisfy the debt, Hennepin County foreclosed on Tyler’s property and sold it for $40,000. The county retained the net proceeds from the sale. Tyler sued the county, alleging that its retention of the surplus equity—the value of the condominium in excess of her $15,000 tax debt—constituted an unconstitutional taking, an unconstitutionally excessive fine, a violation of substantive due process, and unjust enrichment under state law.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her complaint. Minnesota’s statutory tax-forfeiture plan allocates the entire surplus to various entities with no distribution of net proceeds to the former landowner; the statute abrogates any common-law rule that gave a former landowner a property right to surplus equity. Nothing in the Constitution prevents the government from retaining the surplus where the record shows adequate steps were taken to notify the owners of the charges due and the foreclosure proceedings. View "Tyler v. Minnesota" on Justia Law

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The 2012 Cook County Firearm Tax Ordinance imposed a $25 tax on the retail purchase of a firearm within Cook County. A 2015 amendment to the County Code included a tax on the retail purchase of firearm ammunition at the rate of $0.05 per cartridge for centerfire ammunition and $0.01 per cartridge for rimfire ammunition. The taxes levied on the retail purchaser are imposed in addition to all other taxes imposed by the County, Illinois, or any municipal corporation or political subdivision. The revenue generated from the tax on ammunition is directed to the Public Safety Fund; the revenue generated from the tax on firearms is not directed to any specified fund or program.Plaintiffs alleged that the taxes facially violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Illinois Constitution concerning the right to bear arms and the uniformity clause, and are preempted by the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act and the Firearm Concealed Carry Act. The trial court rejected the suit on summary judgment. The appellate court affirmed.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. To satisfy scrutiny under a uniformity challenge, where a tax classification directly bears on a fundamental right, the government must establish that the tax classification is substantially related to the object of the legislation. Under that level of scrutiny, the firearm and ammunition tax ordinances violate the uniformity clause. View "Guns Save Life, Inc. v. Ali" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a tax imposed solely upon a small number of billboard operators is a discriminatory tax that violates the rights to freedom of speech and a free press protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.The City of Cincinnati imposed a tax on outdoor advertising signs, but through definitions and exemptions within the city's municipal code, the tax burdens feel predominantly on two billboard operators only. The two billboard operators (Appellants) sought a declaration that the tax violated their constitutional rights to free speech and a free press and requesting an injunction against the tax's enforcement. The trial court permanently enjoined the City from enforcing the tax. The court of appeals reversed in part. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the injunction, holding that the billboard tax did not survive strict scrutiny and therefore impermissibly infringed on Appellants' rights to free speech and a free press. View "Lamar Advantage GP Co. v. City of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) affirming the City of Cleveland's taxation of Hazel Willacy's stock-option income that she realized in 2016, holding that Willacy's propositions of law lacked merit.Willacy earned the disputed stock options in 2007 from her former employer while she was working in Cleveland. In 2009, Willacy retired and moved to Florida without having exercised any of the options. In 2014 and 2015, Willacy exercised the majority of the options and immediately resold the shares. In 2016, Willacy exercised the remaining options. Her former employer withheld her municipal-income-tax obligation and paid it to Cleveland. Willacy sought a refund on the grounds that she did not live or work in Cleveland. The refund was denied, and the BTA affirmed the denial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Cleveland's taxation of Willacy's 2016 compensation was required under municipal law and did not violate her due process rights under either the United States or Ohio constitutions. View "Willacy v. Cleveland Board of Income Tax Review" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Folajtar pled guilty to a federal felony: willfully making a materially false statement on her tax returns, which is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000, 26 U.S.C. 7206(1). She was sentenced to three years’ probation, including three months of home confinement, a $10,000 fine, and a $100 assessment. She also paid the IRS over $250,000 in back taxes, penalties, and interest. Folajtar was then subject to 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), which prohibits those convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison from possessing firearms.Folajtar sued, asserting that applying section 922(g)(1) to her violated her Second Amendment right to possess firearms. The district court dismissed, finding that Folajtar did not state a plausible Second Amendment claim because she was convicted of a serious crime. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting the general rule that laws restricting firearm possession by convicted felons are valid. There is no reason to deviate from this long-standing prohibition in the context of tax fraud. View "Folajtar v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law

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Freed owed $735.43 in taxes ($1,109.06 with penalties) on his property valued at about $97,000. Freed claims he did not know about the debt because he cannot read well. Gratiot County’s treasurer filed an in-rem action under Michigan's General Property Tax Act (GPTA), In a court-ordered foreclosure, the treasurer sold the property to a third party for $42,000. Freed lost his home and all its equity. Freed sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the Takings Clause and the Eighth Amendment.The district court first held that Michigan’s inverse condemnation process did not provide “reasonable, certain, and adequate” remedies and declined to dismiss the suit under the Tax Injunction Act, which tells district courts not to “enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had" in state court, 28 U.S.C. 1341. The court reasoned that the TIA did not apply to claims seeking to enjoin defendants from keeping the surplus equity and that Freed was not challenging his tax liability nor trying to stop the state from collecting. The TIA applied to claims seeking to enjoin enforcement of the GPTA and declare it unconstitutional but no adequate state court remedy existed. The court used the same reasoning to reject arguments that comity principles compelled dismissal. After discovery, the district court sua sponte dismissed Freed’s case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, despite recognizing that it was “doubtful” Freed could win in state court. The Supreme Court subsequently overturned the "exhaustion of state remedies" requirement for takings claims.The Sixth Circuit reversed without addressing the merits of Freed’s claims. Neither the TIA nor comity principles forestall Freed’s suit from proceeding in federal court. View "Freed v. Thomas" on Justia Law