Freed v. Thomas, No. 18-2312 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
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.