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Detroit property tax assessment lawsuit dismissed, then appealed

detroit homeowners file a lawsuit against the city for property tax over assessment
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A federal judge dismissed a class action lawsuit against the city of Detroit, Wayne County, and the state of Michigan over inflated property tax assessments in 2017.

Judge Nancy Edmunds cited the Tax Injunction Act, writing, "because there is a state remedy that is plain, speedy, and efficient, this Court, a federal court, lacks subject matter jurisdiction over these claims."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are appealing the dismissal, arguing that clients' federal constitutional rights to due process were violated, therefore making federal court the right place to litigate the issue.

In 2017, Detroit completed a property reappraisal for the entire city, ordered by the state. The city was then to send notices to residents, notifying them of the assessment and their right to appeal that assessment. City officials admitted they sent the notices late, on February 14, 2017, four days before the deadline, and extended the deadline to appeal the assessment by two weeks.

The lawsuit, filed in February of 2020, says "the Detroit Defendants made halfhearted—and constitutionally inadequate—attempts to remedy the situation that sowed layer upon layer of legal error and public confusion... and systematically denied them due process guaranteed by the United States and Michigan Constitutions."

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to due process were violated, an injunction requiring the city and the state to release property tax assessments in a timely manner in the future, and an injunction allowing the plaintiffs to retroactively appeal the 2017 property tax assessment, among other requests.

Rami Fakhouri is the lead counsel for the plaintiffs. He says the Tax Injunction Act doesn't bar the case from being heard in a federal court.

"It’s a claim that our clients, the homeowners of Detroit, had their federal constitutional rights violated when Detroit gave inadequate and misleading notice of property tax assessments in 2017." He adds, "We thought that that was mistaken, given the inadequacies in Detroit and Michigan's property tax appeal systems as well as the unsettled law in this area, and we think federal court is the right forum for the plaintiff's claims, in this place."

Lawrence Garcia is the principal attorney for the city of Detroit. He says the city is pleased with the judge's ruling.

"I think it’s fair to say that Judge Edmunds agreed with our position: that the law required us to give property owners some rights to object to the assessments they were given, but we did not have to hold open the window of opportunity for them to do that for years beyond the amount called for by the rule."

Fakhouri says he hopes that with the appeal, the lawsuit could play a role in remedying housing inequities in Detroit, going back to the Great Recession and earlier.

"Our hope is that by bringing some of this information to broader light, and trying to hold the city accountable through the judicial system, we can continue the effort of trying to remedy those inequities and help people who have found themselves in the throes of over-assessments or delinquencies, or even foreclosures, through that process."

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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