Ohio court backs foreclosure against Islamic group on Dayton property

The Ohio Court of Appeals has weighed in on behalf of former Montgomery County Treasurer Carolyn Rice in a foreclosure action against an Islamic group in Dayton.

The ruling supports a treasurer’s office program that lets private citizens launch foreclosures so that property that is delinquent on tax payments can be made available for new ownership.

“We concur with the trial court’s conclusion that the treasurer’s decision to initiate foreclosure proceedings did not violate the uniformity clause of the Ohio Constitution, regardless of whether the decision was prompted by the submission of an application to the Depositor Foreclosure Program,” a three-judge panel said in a unanimous ruling.

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In August 2017, Rice — now a Montgomery County commissioner — filed a complaint for foreclosure alleging that the Islamic Center of Peace had defaulted on its obligation to pay property taxes assessed on real estate near the intersection of North Keowee and East Helena streets in Dayton. The center asserted counterclaims for a “violation of its right to due process,” and a trial court dismissed the counterclaims on a motion from Rice in a January 2018 decision.

The center then appealed to the Ohio Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, which first found that the trial court’s judgment had not resolved the amounts and priority of all liens against the property. The trial court then filed an amended judgment dealing with those issues, according to the appeals court.

The center appealed again. On Friday, the appeals court issued its order, foreclosing on the center’s property.

The center has argued that giving a private party the power to induce the treasurer to file a foreclosure action was a violation of the Ohio Constitution. That’s not how the court saw the issue.

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The court ruled that the treasurer’s office “had the discretion to foreclose on the center’s property as a result of unpaid property taxes.” The center itself “bears the threshold obligation to establish that the treasurer’s decision to initiate foreclosure proceedings was actuated by constitutionally impermissible motives,” the court said.

According to the ruling, Ismail Gula, an officer of the center, said in an affidavit that he believes the center was “targeted on account of its religion, its presence in the community.”

The court found none of the center’s arguments had merit.

Russ Joseph, current Montgomery County treasurer, said his office does everything possible to notify owners who are delinquent that their real estate could end up being auctioned in a sheriff’s sale.

“It affirms what we’re doing here,” Joseph said. “We want to make sure that people understand that we’re serious about collecting taxes our local communities count on.”

Joseph said applicants to the Depositor Foreclosure Program are given no guarantees about who will ultimately come to control the properties.

“They put a down payment down to control the process,” he said. “And then, if it does end up going to sale, it’s going to go to a sheriff’s sale, where it’s advertised, where everyone in a community has an opportunity to come and bid on that property.”

Phone numbers for Reid Worrell, the attorney who represented the center in the case, have been disconnected. A phone number at the Islamic Center of Peace in Fairborn did not let callers leave voice mail messages Monday.

The case was heard by a panel of three judges, Michael Tucker, Jeffrey Welbaum and Jeffrey Froelich. Tucker authored the ruling.

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