WASHINGTON – (RealEstateRama) — This past Friday, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) filed the Reply Brief on the Merits in Murr v. Wisconsin and St. Croix County, PLF’s latest high-profile property rights case at the U.S. Supreme Court.The case is now fully briefed, and the justices are expected to schedule oral argument for some time this fall.
PLF attorneys represent Donna Murr and her siblings Joseph Murr, Michael Murr, and Peggy Heaver. Along with their two other siblings, they are defending their rights to a legacy from their late parents — a vacant parcel along the St. Croix River in Wisconsin that their mother and father purchased in the early 1960s as a family investment.
Next to the vacant investment parcel, the six Murr siblings also own a second, separate parcel, which their parents bought several years earlier. It has a recreational cabin on it, which their parents built and which the family still uses today.
The cabin needs repairs, so, in 2004, the Murr siblings sought to sell their vacant investment parcel to fund the work.
But regulators have forbidden the Murrs from selling or doing anything with the vacant investment parcel, citing land use restrictions that took effect long after the Murr family bought the property. Moreover, the regulators are trying to avoid having to compensate the Murrs for denying them any beneficial use of their investment parcel, by treating the two adjoining lots as if they were a single unified property — even though they were purchased at separate times, are legally distinct and, indeed, have been taxed as separate properties.
“Beyond the powerful human interest story of a family fighting for their rights, this case deals with a long-standing and important question of Fifth Amendment takings law,” said PLF General Counsel John M. Groen, who will argue the case before the Supreme Court. “The case is expected to produce a national precedent for how to identify the ‘relevant parcel’ to be considered in a regulatory takings case.”
Government tries to avoid compensation for confiscation
“Government officials argue that the takings analysis should not focus exclusively on the vacant investment lot and the fact that the family has been denied any economic value and use of that lot,” Groen continued. “Rather, the government argues that the adjoining cabin parcel, and the benefits that the family enjoys from it, should be included in the takings analysis. Of course, including the value of the cabin parcel can effectively absolve government of its takings liability, by diluting the economic impact of the restrictions on the investment parcel.
“PLF argues, to the contrary, that only the investment parcel, and the effects of the land use restrictions on that parcel, are relevant to the takings analysis. The two parcels, after all, are not a single legal entity. Quite the contrary, each is lawfully created as a discrete and separate parcel, and they were purchased individually by the Murrs’ parents at different times, with different deeds, and for different purposes.
“PLF argues that under Supreme Court precedent, a presumption should be recognized that the full fee title to the single parcel should be the standard for applying the takings analysis. In this case, that means that if government denies all productive use of the Murrs’ investment parcel, it cannot avoid takings liability by trying to link it to the legally separate cabin parcel next door.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported PLF is a watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and free enterprise, nationwide. PLF represents the Murrs without charge, as with all its clients. At the Supreme Court, PLF has won nine consecutive direct-representation cases for liberty and limited government. PLF’s most recent Supreme Court victory came earlier this year, in the Clean Water Act case of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes.
Contact: John M. Groen
Interim President and General Counsel
Pacific Legal Foundation