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March 30, 2017Published Article

U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Important Regulatory Takings Case from Wisconsin

On the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee began holding confirmation hearings on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States, the high court heard oral argument in an important case from Wisconsin dealing with regulatory takings.

Murr v. Wisconsin involves waterfront property owned by the Murr family on the St. Croix River in the Town of Troy. During the 1960’s, the Murrs’ parents purchased two adjacent lots (known as Lot E and Lot F). The Murrs built a family cabin on Lot F but left Lot E undeveloped with the intention of either developing or selling the property at a future date. In 1994, the Murrs’ parents transferred the two separate parcels to their children, and both parcels are now owned by the four siblings.

In 2004, the Murr children planned to sell Lot E and use the proceeds to upgrade the family cabin on Lot F. However, St. Croix County informed the Murr family they could not sell Lot E without selling Lot F because under the County’s zoning regulations the two parcels would be treated as one parcel. Compounding matters, the County’s land use regulations prevented the Murrs from building a new house on the undeveloped lot (Lot E). Therefore, the Murrs could neither build on Lot E nor could they sell it separately; instead, they would have to sell both Lot F (with the cabin) and Lot E, which they did not want to do.

The Murrs sued the County, alleging a regulatory takings claim under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides “private property” cannot be “taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled in favor of St. Croix County and the Wisconsin Supreme Court did not accept the case. The Murrs then petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the case.

The specific legal issue before the U.S. Supreme Court is defining what property is actually being taken under a regulatory takings analysis. The Murrs argue that only Lot E (the undeveloped property) should have been considered in the Court’s regulatory taking analysis, not the two lots combined. The County argues the court should evaluate both properties together, not just Lot E.

During oral argument, questions from the eight sitting Justices appeared to be split. The Court is expected to issue its opinion by end of June.

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