May 25th, 2016 — By — In Articles

Owners’ Counsel of America Files Amici Brief with The Cato Institute in SCOTUS Property Rights Case

On January 15, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it will hear the regulatory takings case of Murr v. Wisconsin, No. 15-214, an appeal out of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Wisconsin’s intermediate court ruled that a property owner’s separate but adjacent parcels should be considered as a single property for purposes of determining if an uncompensated taking has occurred, despite the fact that doing so substantially deprived the owner of the value of one of the independent parcels. Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA) and The Cato Institute (Cato) are asking the Supreme Court to reach a different conclusion.  

OCA and Cato Seek to Establish Bright-Line Rule to Protect Property Owners’ Rights

Murr v. Wisconsin arose out of the Murr family’s attempt to obtain a variance and necessary government permissions in order to sell one of their lots, which was vacant, and to make upgrades to an existing cabin located on the neighboring parcel. St. Croix County denied the variance request, citing a local ordinance that prohibited individual development or sale of adjacent lots owned by the same party, except under certain limited circumstances. The ordinance had been passed after the Murrs acquired the parcels in question.

The Murr family subsequently sued the State of Wisconsin and St. Croix County, arguing that the denial of their request amounted to a regulatory taking without just compensation. Specifically, they argued that the prohibition on selling the vacant lot independently deprived them of “all, or practically all” use of the lot.

The trial court disagreed – finding that the vacant lot retained some economic value – and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed in Murr v. State of Wisconsin, No. 2013AP2828 (Dec. 23, 2014). Critical to the Court of Appeals’ decision, however, was its choice to treat the Murrs’ two separate lots as a single “parcel as a whole.” As a result, considering the retained value of the lots “as a whole,” any loss of value with respect to the vacant lot (which was now only half of the “parcel”) was not enough to require payment of just compensation.

OCA and Cato’s Brief Argues Against Combining Separate Properties to Create a “Parcel as a Whole”

In the amici curiae brief, OCA and Cato ask the Supreme Court to establish a bright-line rule against combining separate properties owned by a single party into one “parcel as a whole.” Establishing such a rule would prevent decisions like the Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision in Murr v. Wisconsin, and would clarify the regulatory takings test that the Supreme Court originally established in a case in 1978.

It was in this 1978 case, Penn Central Trans. Co. v. New York City, that the Supreme Court held that the factors for establishing a regulatory taking must be applied to the “parcel as a whole.” However, nothing in the Penn opinion dictates application of this principle in the manner in which it was applied in Murr v. Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision unnecessarily and improperly impairs the rights of private property owners, and OCA and Cato’s brief argues for a different result. (For more about the Murr case visit here and here.)

Contact OCA to Speak with a Property Rights Attorney in Your State

If you would like more information about the Murr case, or would like to speak with an attorney about protecting your private property rights, feel free to contact Owners’ Counsel of America. We are a network of the country’s leading property rights attorneys, committed to preserving private property rights nationwide. To get in touch, call us toll-free at (877) 367-6963 or send us a message online today.

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