November 7, 2017

Victory for property rights at Wisconsin Legislature

By James S. Burling Vice President for Litigation

Good news out of Wisconsin: The Legislature has acted to shore up the rights of property owners that the U.S. Supreme Court undercut earlier this year in its unfortunate decision in Murr v. Wisconsin.  Lawmakers have approved bills by Rep. Adam Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany to stop government from denying landowners their rights simply because they happen to own two parcels next door to each other.

Represented by PLF, the Murr family appealed to the Supreme Court after St. Croix County robbed them of a family legacy—a vacant riverfront parcel that their late parents bought years ago as a family investment. The Murrs would like to sell that lot to pay for repairs to their beloved family cabin that sits on their separate parcel, next door.  But government officials—imposing regulations enacted after both properties were purchased—have forbidden them from selling or making any productive use of the vacant investment parcel.

To avoid having to reimburse the Murrs for cancelling their property rights, officials insisted on arbitrarily treating both lots as if they were a single, unified parcel.

By a 5-3 vote this past June, the Supreme Court gave a pass to this ploy, undermining the Constitution’s protection against uncompensated takings.

Responding to that disappointing setback, Rep. Jarchow and Sen. Tiffany stepped forward to help the Murrs and every property owner in the Badger State who might fall victim to a similar scheme.

Among other things, their measures protect owners of separate, adjacent lots from having their properties combined without their consent.  In other words, government can’t single out people for denial of basic property rights because they have “too much property.”

Now that lawmakers have passed these measures, they go to Gov. Scott Walker. The Murr family and everyone who values property rights hopes he adds his signature enthusiastically.

John Groen, PLF’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, who represented the Murrs at the Supreme Court, had this statement: “All of us at Pacific Legal Foundation are very pleased with the legislative progress made today. Special thanks to Rep. Adam Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany for recognizing the need to restore property rights for the Murrs and the people of Wisconsin.  Whether through the courts or the legislature, securing individual rights in property is fundamental to liberty.  Today’s action advances liberty.”

Published by Spero News

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Murr v. Wisconsin

The Murr family owned two separately deeded lots that were purchased independently by their parents in the 1960s. They built a small cabin on one lot and held the other one as an investment for the future. But when the time came to sell, subsequently enacted regulations forbade the Murrs from making any productive use of the vacant lot – and without any use, it had no value they could sell. PLF represents in the Murrs in a lawsuit arguing that the regulation was an uncompensated taking because it took away all the use and value of the lot. The courts ruled against the family because they owned the adjacent lot with the cabin, and therefore hadn’t lost everything.

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