Hang on to your summer hats, we’ve got some serious eminent domain news to share. Yup, we are talking about the recent case Murr v. Wisconsin and the recent eminent domain handed down by the Supreme Court concerning regulatory takings.
Sounds like a lot of people are upset about this decision, some say with good reason.
The case deals with the situation encountered by Donna Murr and her siblings in Wisconsin. Donna and her family owned two small parcels of land along the St. Croix River. On one parcel was a cabin. The other adjoining property parcel, was left vacant as an investment.
In 2004, the family attempted to sell the vacant lot. Bad news for them, the state of Wisconsin had changed the rules and it became impossible to sell the land to anyone other than the county. That’s unless they combined the properties and relinquished the entire package.
Appraisals had valued the merged lots at $698,300, and at $771,000 if they were two separate properties. (OUCH!)
The Murr family did what most people would do for that kind of cash, they sued to be properly compensated under the Takings Clause. They felt that the state, through changes in laws that did not apply when the family acquired the land, had completely gutted its worth. They argued that the lot lines always define the relevant parcel.
Well, SCOTUS says otherwise. It turns out that when governments issue regulations that undermine the value of property, bureaucrats don’t necessarily have to compensate property holders. Their argument, however, “ignores the fact that lot lines are themselves creatures of state law, which can be overridden by the state in the reasonable exercise of its power,” Justice Kennedy said. He went on to say that “[m]erger provisions often form part of a regulatory scheme that establishes a minimum lot size in order to preserve open space while still allowing orderly development.”
According to Ilya Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University who authored the amicus brief on behalf of those western states: “Many state governments own contiguous lots and large bodies of water near areas owned by the federal government (military bases, national parks, etc). If those government bodies are allowed to merge contiguous lots for regulatory purposes, the federal government could impose severe restrictions on state land and wouldn’t have to pay consequences.”
This regulatory takings holding impacts will impact a lot of people whose property is seized by eminent domain. Justice Clarence Thomas said: “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.”