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On June 23, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Murr v. Wisconsin. In the 1960s the Murrs purchased two adjacent lots (Lots F and E), each over an acre in size, in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. In 1994 and 1995, the parents transferred the parcels to their children and the two lots were merged pursuant to St. Croix County’s code of ordinances, with local rules then barring their separate sale or development.  A decade later the Murrs sought to sell Lot E in order to fund construction work on Lot F, but the St. Croix County Board of Adjustment denied a variance from the ordinance barring separate sale or development of the lots. The Murrs sued the state and county, claiming that the ordinance effected an uncompensated taking of their property and deprived them of “all, or practically all, of the use of Lot E because the lot cannot be sold or developed as a separate lot.” The circuit court disagreed and granted summary judgment to the state and county. The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin affirmed, concluding that the Murrs took the properties with constructive knowledge of the resulting restrictions and had not suffered a loss in value of more than 10%. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied further review.

The question before the United States Supreme Court was whether, in a regulatory taking case, the “parcel as a whole” concept as described in Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York establishes a rule that two legally distinct but commonly owned contiguous parcels must be combined for takings analysis purposes.

By a vote of 5-3, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin. In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court held that the Wisconsin court was correct to analyze the Murrs’ lots as a single unit and that no compensable taking had occurred. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Thomas and Alito joined. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. 

To discuss the case, we have James S. Burling, who is Vice President of Litigation, Pacific Legal Foundation.

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