Minnesota faces $109 million settlement after 89 years of unconstitutional seizures

Minnesota is paying a sizable settlement after almost 90 years of a process the Supreme Court found unconstitutional last year.

FOX 9 first told you about Geraldine Tyler, a 94-year-old woman who sued Hennepin County.

Tyler left her Minneapolis condo in 2010, but never wanted to sell it.

11 years later and in her 90s, she racked up about $15,000 in unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest.

Hennepin County seized the place and sold it for $40,000, and gave her nothing.

When the Supreme Court unanimously agreed the county didn’t have the right to take all that money, it opened up the floodgates.

Now the state is paying $109 million to about 6,000 people and legislators are changing the laws.

"It's really important that property owners, especially ones who are vulnerable, who are in a bad place if they're being foreclosed upon, are able to get these excess proceeds that they're due," said Rep. Sandra Feist, (DFL-New Brighton).

Minnesota was one of 12 states to regularly seize people's property and keep all the proceeds.

"Minnesota government has been doing that since 1935," said Sen. Warren Limmer, (R-Maple Grove). "It was totally wrong then it's totally wrong now."

Limmer authored a bill after the Supreme Court ruled in Tyler’s favor last year, saying Hennepin County couldn’t just take her property, sell it, and keep the change.

"It's like you buying something for $3, and you give the cashier a $10 bill, you expect you change back," he said.

Limmer’s bill has stagnated, but Rep. Feist picked up the mantle this year.

As it's written, her bill would still call on property owners to file a claim to any excess proceeds, which some Supreme Court justices hinted might pass constitutional muster. But she tells FOX 9 that she’s considering taking out that requirement.

"We don't want to create a complicated process where we're going to trick people into, you know, screwing up the paperwork and then, oops, you didn't get the proceeds," said Rep. Feist.

Leaders at the AARP and the lawyers who represented Geraldine Tyler told us they’d prefer a new law where the property owners just get their portion of the proceeds without taking any action.

"As currently written, I believe the bill is unconstitutional," said Pacific Legal Foundation'a Christina Martin, an attorney for Tyler. "And on its face, it is unfair. Most people who lose their property this way are elderly, ill, poor, or struggling under other severe circumstances."