PLF argues historic property rights case at Supreme Court
March 20, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C.; March 20, 2017: This morning, the historic property rights case of Murr v. State of Wisconsin and St. Croix County was argued at the Supreme Court by John M. Groen, Executive Vice President and General Counsel with Pacific Legal Foundation.
The Murrs would like to sell the vacant parcel, to fund repairs to their family cabin which sits on an adjacent parcel that their parents bought several years earlier. But government officials — imposing regulations enacted after both parcels were purchased — have forbidden them from selling or making any productive use of the vacant investment parcel. To avoid having to pay the Murrs for a “taking” of the vacant parcel, officials are arbitrarily treating both lots as if they were a single, unified parcel — even though they were bought at different times and are legally distinct.
The case poses a precedent-setting question: Can government take property without compensation simply because the owner happens to also own adjacent land? Are people denied constitutional protections against uncompensated takings if government decides they own “too much” property?
“It was an honor to argue this important property rights case before the nation’s highest court this morning,” said Groen. “This case is about seeking justice for the Murr family and protecting their rights, but it is also about ensuring the integrity of everyone’s constitutionally protected property rights, from coast to coast. When regulators deny people all the use of their property, as has happened to the Murrs with their vacant parcel, government cannot escape liability for a taking. It cannot be allowed to evade its responsibility, under the Fifth Amendment, to provide just compensation. The Constitution means what it says when it prohibits uncompensated seizure of property. With this case, we seek to reaffirm that government can’t define that mandate away through the use of creative regulatory maneuvers.”
“How important was today’s argument?” asked Donna Murr, one of the Murr siblings who brought this case to the Supreme Court. “It was huge, because the principles at stake have implications for all Americans. Wisconsin regulators have treated our two separate lots, one containing our family cabin and another adjacent vacant parcel that was purchased as an investment, as though they are one parcel. In a ploy to deny our rights, they have taken away our ability to sell or develop the vacant parcel, while claiming we do not deserve compensation because we already have the cabin on our other parcel.
“Today, the Supreme Court heard how dangerous and unconstitutional this scheme is.
“This day has been a long time coming for my family, and more than 20 members of the Murr clan have gathered here,” she continued. “We only wish our parents, William and Dorothy, had lived to see this day. They purchased these two parcels in the early 1960s, and built the cabin we all enjoy to this day for family gatherings. We know they are with us in spirit. And we know we have the support of so many Americans, across the country, who believe our property rights should never be sacrificed to overreaching government.
“Our family is so grateful that Pacific Legal Foundation took our case all the way to the Supreme Court,” she said. “We want to thank all of PLF’s supporters for making this day possible, where a regular family could get our day in court — at the nation’s highest court.”
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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 17 wins of 19 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.