July 11, 2012Client Alert

Supreme Court Upholds Siting Board’s Decision to Correct Town That Overstepped Its Authority

In a case of first impression under Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 that the state Livestock Facility Siting Review Board has the authority to correct illegal permit conditions imposed by towns. The decision brings to an end a six-year legal battle between Larson Acres, Inc., a fifth-generation family dairy farm in Evansville, Wisconsin, the Town of Magnolia in Rock County, and various intervenors.


In deciding the first case to address a municipality’s authority under the state’s Livestock Facility Siting Law, the Supreme Court agreed with Larson and held that the Siting Law preempts local authority to impose wide-ranging conditions on livestock siting permits. The Court also confirmed that the state Livestock Facility Siting Review Board properly reversed individual conditions imposed by the Town. Michael Best & Friedrich LLP assisted Larson through every step of this proceeding, from the preparation of its initial siting application through the Town review process and subsequent appeals to the Siting Review Board, Circuit Court, Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. This decision is an important victory for agricultural operators across the state, as it confirms that the purpose of the siting law is to provide statewide, uniform siting standards and that the Siting Review Board is authorized to correct improper local decisions.


In Larson’s case, the Town attempted to impose additional siting standards beyond those properly promulgated in state rules by approving Larson’s conditional use permit and including conditions unrelated to the uniform state siting standards. Larson challenged those additional conditions to the Siting Review Board, which found that the Town should have granted the conditional use permit without the additional conditions. The Town appealed the Siting Review Board’s decision, arguing first that the Town was authorized to impose all of the conditions and, alternatively, that the Siting Review Board lacked the authority to reverse individual conditions.  According to the Town, the Siting Review Board’s only two options were to uphold the conditional use permit in total or to reverse the conditional use permit and send the matter back to the Town Board. 


Larson disagreed and argued to the Court that the Town overstepped its authority by imposing conditions not allowed by the Siting Law. Larson also defended the Siting Review Board’s decision to reverse individual improper conditions, noting that to confine the Siting Review Board to only two options, wholesale approval or wholesale reversal of the conditional use permit, would frustrate the underlying legislative purpose of the Siting Law.


The Supreme Court agreed with Larson, noting that one of the purposes of the Siting Law was to provide for speedy approval of proper siting applications.  It summed up its decision this way:  “The [Siting Review] Board acted properly. . . .  [T]he Town committed the initial error that the Siting Board was required by law to rectify.”


The Supreme Court’s decision in Adams v. Livestock Facilities Siting Review Board, 2012 WI 85, marks the final step in Larson’s efforts to obtain local siting approval of its heifer facility constructed years ago. We have been honored to be able to assist Larson and the Dairy Business Association (DBA) through every step of this process.

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