After four years of litigation, a 68-year-old man from the city of Seville has won a property tax lawsuit he brought against Gratiot County.
A federal judge has ruled that the county must reimburse Donald Freed after county treasurer Michelle Thomas seized his house and sold it at a public auction for $ 42,000 to cover the $ 1,100 qu ‘he owed for overdue property taxes.
The extra money went into the general county fund.
The initial lawsuit was filed by Freed’s attorney, Philip Ellison of Hemlock Outside Legal Counsel, in October 2017 in the Eastern Region of the United States District Court, citing Thomas and the county as co-accused.
She claimed compensation for the house and the 35-acre parcel of land at 7706 N. Bliss Road. near Elwell, where Freed has lived for over 40 years.
At the time, the property was valued by the county at $ 97,000.
Freed said âit was a reliefâ to finally settle the matter.
“They will never be able to do that to anyone again,” he added.
U.S. District Senior Judge Bernard Friedman signed the order that requires the county to pay Freed the difference between his $ 1,100 tax bill and the $ 42,000 price the property was sold for, plus interest, and all legal and attorney fees.
Freed noted that he’s not sure yet on the full refund amount, he’s just happy to have finally completed the long process.
â(The county) shouldn’t be able to rob people, but it’s happening all over the country,â he said. “This is really wrong. They shouldn’t be allowed to treat people like that.”
Even though it had been sold, Freed never moved from his home and continued to live there while the litigation was ongoing because someone he knew was the person who bought the county property.
“I brought in a friend to help me, otherwise I would have lost everything,” he said. “He let me stay here all the time. Now I can finally pay him back.”
Messages left for Ellison requesting further comment were not returned.
In his ruling, Friedman wrote that the county’s actions were illegal under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
âThe defendants’ actions to seize and use the excess equity in Plaintiff Freed’s real estate without payment of just compensation committed an unconstitutional take.
“In other words, the defendants, acting under the guise of the law, took all of Freed’s equity in excess of his tax debt to the government on the forced sale of his property at less than fair value. Merchant.”
According to the original lawsuit filed in 2017, Freed was paying a certain percentage of back taxes to the county, however, he was unaware of the implications of not paying the full amount because he is unable to read at the necessary level. to understand notices sent by mail. to him by the treasurer.
He also said Thomas admitted through his attorney that she did not provide verbal notice of the foreclosure to Freed, which is a requirement of the process.
His case received a huge boost last July when the Michigan Supreme County unanimously ruled that counties cannot sell a foreclosed property for tax purposes at a profit without compensating the individual to whom the property owed. was taken.
This ruling now has significant financial ramifications for counties statewide and has resulted in class actions, representing thousands of clients, filed in several other jurisdictions, which could cost those counties hundreds of millions of dollars in refund.
Freed’s attorney has about 30 other clients who are part of these lawsuits involving nearly half of the state’s 83 counties.