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Since its creation in 1977, MSLF has been one of the nation's leading centers fighting to ensure that property owners are accorded all rights guaranteed by the Constitution. MSLF defends property owners who cannot afford to fight back against government lawyers and environmental groups to protect their property rights. MSLF's litigation has helped to ensure the preservation of one of America's most valuable and valued freedoms--the right to own and use property.

Murr v. Wisconsin

Why We Fight:

States may not manipulate the definition of private property to deny landowners the use of their property, which is a “taking” that requires “just compensation.”

Summary:

A Wisconsin family owns two adjacent, waterfront lots but was instructed by the local government that, because the lots are adjacent, their two separate properties constitute a single lot on which they can construct only one house. 

Legal Question:

Whether the mere fact that a property owner owns two contiguous parcels of land allows the government to preclude all use of one of the parcels with impunity?

Petitioners

Joseph P. Murr; William W. Murr; Donna J. Murr; Peggy M. Heaver, all represented by Pacific Legal Foundation

Respondents

State of Wisconsin; St. Croix County

Amicus Curiae:

Mountain States Legal Foundation

Court:

Supreme Court of the United States

None - the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling

The Murr family—four siblings—collectively own two parcels of property in Troy, Wisconsin.  In 1960, their parents purchased the first parcel, Lot F, in the St. Croix Cove Subdivision on which they built a 950 square foot cabin; the title was transferred to their plumbing business.  In 1963, they bought Lot E in the same subdivision, which remains vacant and undeveloped.  In 1994, they transferred title to Lot F from the company to their children and transferred title to Lot E from themselves to their children, both as gift.  Lots E and F are adjacent to each other and both have frontage on Lake St. Croix.      

In 2004, the Murrs learned that county zoning regulations prohibited them from separately developing or selling Lot E because, in 1975, twelve years after the parents acquired Lot E, St. Croix County enacted a zoning regulation, which required individual lots to contain a net project area of at least one acre.  Although Lot E is 1.25 acres, more than half of it is within a floodplain and the lot also has a substantial slope.  Thus, Lot E is left with a .5 acre net project area and is considered “substandard.”  If anyone other than the Murrs owned Lot E, Lot E would be “grandfathered” and used as a building site; but because the Murrs own both Lots E and F, the grandfather clause’s exception does not apply to them.  Moreover, the zoning ordinance prohibits the Murrs from selling Lot E to anyone else, unless it is combined with Lot F.  St. Croix County denied the Murrs a variance.

After losing their case at a Wisconsin trial court, the Murrs appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, which ruled that because the two lots were contiguous and happened to have the same owners the “parcel as a whole” rule in Penn Central Transp. Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104 (1996) applied.  The Court of Appeals ruled that, taken together, the two lots “suffice as a single, buildable lot under the Ordinance.”  The court also noted that the family was entitled to build a year-round residence, either entirely on one lot, entirely on the other lot, or straddling both lots.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied review, but on January 16, 2015, the Supreme Court granted the petition,  agreeing to answer the following question:  “Whether the ‘parcel as a whole’ concept described in Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104, 130–31 (1978) establishes a rule that two legally distinct, but commonly owned contiguous parcels must be combined for takings analysis purposes.”  On April 11, 2016, the Murrs filed their merits brief.  On April 18, 2016, MSLF filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Murrs, arguing that the “parcel as a whole” concept from Penn Central does not require courts to aggregate legally distinct, contiguous properties in takings analyses.  Respondents filed their opposition on June 10, 2016, and the Murrs filed their reply brief on July 27, 2016. On March 20, 2017, the Supreme Court held oral arguments.  On June 23, 2017, contrary to arguments made by MSLF, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling against the Murrs.

 

No Status Updates
  • Wisconsin Family Loses Property Rights Battle

    Jun 23, 2017
    A nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation with decades of experience battling attempts by State and local government to deny landowners their right to use their private property today expressed its grave disappointment of the Supreme Court of the United States to failure limit the use of a decades old ruling that was applied to a Wisconsin family that seeks to use two contiguous lots that their family has owned for decades.
  • Wisconsin Wrongfully Takes Landowners Private Property

    Apr 18, 2016
    A nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation with decades of experience battling attempts by State and local government to deny landowners their right to use their private property today urged the Supreme Court of the United States to limit the applicability of a decades old ruling that was applied to a Wisconsin family that seeks to use two contiguous lots that their family has owned for decades.


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