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Freed v. Thomas

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 3, 2018

DONALD FREED, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHELLE THOMAS and COUNTY OF GRATIOT, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE MOTION OF GENESEE COUNTY TREASURER, INGHAM COUNTY TREASURER, MARQUETTE COUNTY TREASURER, AND MIDLAND COUNTY TREASURER TO INTERVENE

          BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is presently before the Court on the motion of the Treasurers of the Counties of Genesee, Ingham, Marquette, and Midland (“proposed intervenors”) to intervene [docket entry 30]. Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition, and the proposed intervenors have filed a reply. Pursuant to E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide the motion without a hearing.

         This is a takings case. The gist of the complaint is that defendants Gratiot County and its treasurer, Michelle Thomas, “took Plaintiff Donald Freed's property worth $97, 000.00 to satisfy a past due tax of $735.43 (plus other expenses), and then refused to refund any of the difference beyond what [was] needed to satisfy that debt.” Compl. ¶ 1. The property is a house on a 35-acre parcel in Elwell, Michigan, where plaintiff lived. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Plaintiff allegedly did not know “the extent he was behind on this small amount of property tax” because he “cannot read to a sufficient enough level” and defendant Thomas did not provide him with verbal notice. Id. ¶¶ 17-19. In February 2017, Thomas obtained a foreclosure judgment against the property due to plaintiff s failure to pay $1, 109.60 in past-due property taxes, interest, and fees. Id. ¶ 20. In August 2017, Thomas sold the property to a third party for $42, 000. Id. ¶ 21. Defendants “refused to return the excess equity.” Id. ¶ 22.

         The complaint asserts two claims. Count I, which is based on the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, claims that defendants “have taken property in the form of equity and/or monies beyond the amount of unpaid taxes and administrative expenses . . . and have appropriated said monies for public use without the payment of just compensation.” Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Count II, which is based on the Eighth Amendment, claims that defendants violated plaintiffs rights “[b]y imposing and retaining an excessive fine in the form of the forfeiture of value of [his] equity interest . . . in excess of eighty times the value of the unpaid taxes and administrative expenses.” Id. ¶¶ 34-35. For relief, plaintiff asks that the Court

a. Enter an order . . . declaring the conduct of Defendants as being unconstitutional;
b. Enter an order . . . declaring the General Property Tax Act, Act 206 of 1893, as applied to Plaintiff . . . as being unconstitutional and enjoin its future application in the same manner against Plaintiff . . . by Defendants;
c. Enter an order for injunctive relief to halt the illegal processes and procedures of Defendants in violation of the Fifth, Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution;
d. Enter an order for damages in the amount of taken and/or forfeited equity and/or funds in excess of the unpaid taxes and administrative expenses, costs and interest of $1, 109.06 [sic] obtained and retained by Defendants by its [sic] illegal actions;
e. Enter an order for an award of nominal and/or punitive damages;
f Enter an order for an award of actual reasonable attorney fees and litigation expenses . . .
g. Enter an order for all such other relief the court deems equitable.

Id. ¶ 39.

         The treasurers of Genesee, Ingham, Marquette, and Midland Counties “are moving to intervene in this matter so they can protect the statute at issue as applied in this matter.” Proposed Intervenors' Reply at 2. They claim to “have a substantial interest in insuring that the Act is not declared unconstitutional in any way.” Id. These proposed intervenors believe they “have a significant interest in this matter because they are the governmental actors primarily responsible for administering the statute at issue in their respective jurisdictions.” Proposed Intervenors' Main Br. at 6. They contend they must “be allowed to intervene to protect the integrity of the tax foreclosure process, the statute at issue and the State of Michigan's sovereign right to establish a comprehensive process for the assessment and collection of real property taxes, free of federal ...


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