The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on March 20 in a government land grab case out of Wisconsin where officials told a family their 50-year investment in a piece of property was, No. 1, worthless, and No. 2, still subject to property taxes due every year.
A legal team with the Pacific Legal Foundation is trying to sort out the situation for the Murr family of Wisconsin.
The facts aren’t complicated. The parents of Donna, Joseph and Michael Murr, and Peggy Heaver, bought a St. Croix riverfront parcel and built a cabin for their own use in 1960. They also, a few years later, bought the adjacent, separate, lot as an investment, hoping to cash in when property values rose.
But in the 1970s, new land-use rules were imposed that limited the area of land that could be developed. As typically happens in those circumstances, the existing parcels were grandfathered under the previous rules which means the new limits wouldn’t apply.
Except in this case, the bureaucrats arbitrarily said that the rules WOULD apply if the property owner owned an adjacent piece of land. That means the government now officially considers the two parcels purchased by the Murrs one lot, even though they legally are separate entities and property taxes still are collected every year on both.
So the family is not allowed to sell the second parcel, or build on it.
The lower courts agreed with the governmental property-taking plan, prompting PLF attorney John Groen, at the time, to explain, “The ruling … offends the letter and spirit of the Constitution’s ban on uncompensated takings, by allowing government to deprive people of the use of their land simply because they happen to own another lot next to it.”
Pacific Legal officials said the family members want to sell the parcel to fund repairs on their own cabin, but the government has forbidden the Murrs from selling or making any productive use of the vacant parcel.
The PLF’s question to the justices: “Can government take property without compensation simply because the owner happens to also own adjacent land?”
“It will be a privilege to argue this important property rights case before the nation’s highest court on March 20,” Groen said. “This is about justice for a family that has been wronged by local land use regulations, but it is also about everyone’s property rights, from coast to coast. We are seeking to reaffirm that government can’t use creative regulatory maneuvers to take property without compensation.”
Added Donna Murr, “We have been patiently waiting for this news for over a year, and cannot wait to start making plans for our trip to Washington, D.C. We hope to have as many of mom and dad’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren present for the oral arguments as possible.”
See a video about the fight:
PLF noted that although the case focuses on the St. Croix County land, the case “challenges an abuse that has been known to happen nationwide: where regulators forbid the use of private property, and also fail to provide ‘just compensation,’ on the excuse that the owner also happens to own the neighboring parcel of property.”
“In our brief to the Supreme Court, PLF argues for the Murrs that Takings Clause jurisprudence, and simple common sense and fairness, dictate that these two parcels should be considered as what they are – legally independent, discrete, and separate properties,” said Groen. “Therefore, the government cannot escape its liability for a taking when it denies all use of the investment parcel. These parcels were purchased at separate times, for separate purposes, and they have never been used or developed together. Under these circumstances, the regulatory impact should be analyzed based on the effect on the investment parcel alone.”