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Prof. Thomas Takes Civil Practice Clinic Appeal to Minn. Supreme Court

MARCH 28, 2012—On April 2, 2012, Clinical Professor Laura Thomas and co-counsel David Wilson and Michael Gavigan (’11), both of Wilson Law Group, will appear before the Minnesota Supreme Court on a direct appeal of the property tax assessment lawsuit Odunlade et al. v. City of Minneapolis (Supreme Court File No. A111832). The core of the lawsuit alleges violations of federal and state equal protection rights and rights to uniform taxation under Article X, Section 1, of the Minnesota Constitution, and seeks declaratory judgment and mandamus relief.

The appeal raises the central issue of whether the City of Minneapolis has the ability to change the definition of "forced sale" under Minnesota law. The lawsuit alleges that by characterizing any sale of residential real estate by a bank or other lender as a forced sale, the City uses a broader definition than that allowed by law and ignores valid, arms-length transactions, effectively fattening its property tax base.

Gavigan has worked on the case since 2010 when the lawsuit was served and filed in Hennepin County District Court by the Law School's Civil Practice Clinic under the supervision of Thomas. Gavigan, former Clinic student director John Braun (’11) of Thomas Law Group, and current Clinic students Katherine Pasker (’12) and Anupama Sreekanth (’12) briefed the appeal. Clinic students did a sales ratio study and compared tax assessment across the entire City of Minneapolis to prepare the lawsuit.

As alleged in the lawsuit, the result of the practice is that residential property owners in the Minneapolis communities of Near North, Camden, and Phillips are forced to shoulder a larger share of the property tax base than they should under the law. The "market value" of a residential property, as the term is defined by law (a recent arms-length transaction), should drive the property tax assessment process. The lawsuit alleges that market value should not depend on the identity of the seller.

 
 
 

Civil Practice Clinic

From left are: Katherine Pasker (’12), Michael Gavigan (’11), Professor Laura Thomas, and Anupama Sreekanth (’12).