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Minn. Supreme Court Remands Civil Practice Clinic Appeal to Tax Court

DECEMBER 21, 2012—The Minnesota Supreme Court issued an opinion on December 19, 2012, in the property tax assessment lawsuit Odunlade et al. v. City of Minneapolis (Supreme Court File No. A111832), remanding a portion of the lawsuit to the Minnesota Tax Court.

The plaintiffs will pursue claims for tax year 2010, alleging that the City of Minneapolis violated their statutory rights regarding property valuation and assessment. They will be represented by Wilson Law Group and, under the supervision of Clinic Professor Laura Thomas, the Law School's Civil Practice Clinic. Several new Clinic students, including Jason Reed (’13) and Brittany Bakken (’13), will be assigned to work on the case as it proceeds through remand and trial.

Thomas and co-counsel David Wilson and Michael Gavigan (’11) of Wilson Law Group appeared before the Minnesota Supreme Court on April 2, 2012, on a direct appeal of the lawsuit, alleging violations of federal and state equal protection rights and rights to uniform taxation under Article X, Section 1, of the Minnesota Constitution and raising the issue of whether the City of Minneapolis has the ability to change the definition of "forced sale" (beyond the statute) under Minnesota law.

Civil Practice Clinic students did a sales ratio study and compared tax assessment across the entire City of Minneapolis to prepare the April appeal. Katherine Pasker (’12) and Anupama Sreekanth (’12) and former Clinic students Gavigan and John Braun (’11) wrote the brief.

The plaintiffs claim the City violated Minnesota Statute Section 273.11 by characterizing their purchases of residential real estate as forced sales because the seller was a bank or other lender. In doing so, the City excluded the plaintiffs' actual purchase prices from the valuation process and relied instead on higher dollar sales from earlier years, thereby illegally inflating plaintiffs' assessments and, as a result, the City's revenue base. By broadening the definition of forced sale and ignoring valid, arms-length transactions, the City forced residential home owners in Phillips, Near North, and Camden communities, neighborhoods already devastated by foreclosures, to bear an unjustifiably large share of the property tax base.

The Minnesota Supreme Court held that multiple plaintiffs can proceed with their lawsuit because, although each separately owns residential property within the City, all challenged the identical issue.