February 13 roundup

  • Michigan’s Oakland County seizes rental property owned by elderly man over $8.41 unpaid tax bill plus $277 in fees and interest, sells property for $24,500, keeps all the surplus cash for itself. Constitutional? [Joe Barnett, Detroit News]
  • Pruning obsolete laws: “Teaneck Council repeals more than a dozen old laws, including ban on cursing” [Megan Burrow, North Jersey Record, quoting Councilman and longtime friend of this site Keith Kaplan]
  • “What does the Constitution have to say about national emergencies, both real and imagined?” [Cato Daily Podcast with Gene Healy and Caleb Brown]
  • Lawyer in drunk-driving case: my client’s chewing on her coat could’ve thrown off breath test [AP/WSBT (Berwick, Pa.)]
  • Baltimore police corruption, tax policies that attract people, densifying MoCo and more in my latest Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes]
  • Busybodies in Bismarck: “North Dakota’s Excellent Food Freedom Act Is Under Attack Yet Again” [Baylen Linnekin]


  • All seizing of property for unpaid taxes or traffic citations should only be allowed over a certain amount (not like in this case)–there must surely be other ways of getting $8.41 in unpaid taxes less draconian. When they are seized and sold the gov absolutely should not be allowed to keep the proceeds over the amount of the fine. If they could not keep such proceeds I would bet they would seize far fewer properties. Not worth the hassle to do that to collect $8.41.

  • Re; Oakland—obviously unfair, and morally offensive, But is it unconstitutional? Hmmm. Government officials have the right to allow third parties to pay past due taxes etc. and get the property free and clear. So why can’t the government just sell the property and keep the proceeds?

    I know there are answers to this, but the issue isn’t as cut and dried as it seems, and Oakland County may deserve to win on this.

  • So why can’t the government just sell the property and keep the proceeds?

    It amounts to an excessive fine, if nothing else – you’re fining the guy a house because he didn’t pay $8.41. See, for example, Austin v. United States, in which civil forfeiture was found to fall under the Eighth Amendment.

    It’s a rental property. They could have got a court order to garnish one month’s rent, and that likely would have more than payed for it, even including the fees and interest. There was no reason to take the entire house.