News Releases
April 25, 2024

Policy and News from the Courts, Week of April 22


State Court Holds Home-Equity Theft Unconstitutional

Following on last year’s Supreme Court decision that threw out a similar Minnesota law, a Superior Court judge has ruled that the Massachusetts “home-equity theft” law—​allowing municipalities to take private property in order to cover unpaid debts, then keep all the equity—is “unconstitutional as applied in circumstances, such as here, where the tax debt is less than the value of the property.”

(Or, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Supreme Court, “The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more.”)

The BBA has supported legislative reform that would not only end this practice—​as well as a municipality’s right to sell the debt to a third-party collector, which can then also reap the benefits of selling the property at any value—but also​ address other flaws in the current law, such as lack of notice to debtors and inflexible requirements for repayment plans. So, while this case may reach the SJC, the best outcome would be comprehensive legislative action.

BBA Leaders Meet with Chief Judge Saylor

This week, BBA President Hannah Kilson and President-Elect Matt McTygue sat down with Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV of the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts. Topics discussed at this year’s annual meeting included the turnover on that bench. After years of relative stability—including a 16-year period ending in 2010 during which Judge Saylor was the only addition—he has been particularly focused on the training of his court’s four new judges (with one more nominee in the pipeline), as well as new policies to address any cognitive decline in judges. (More here.)

The chief judge is also concerned about security—both the personal safety of judges in this political climate and the ​security of the waterfront Moakley Courthouse in the face of climate change. And as he aims to modernize the District Court’s use of technology, he worries about inconsistent budget support from Congress for the federal courts generally.