Village junk vehicle ordinance broader than state traffic regulations, but validity of ordinance could not be determined

by Kaitlin Heinen

Village of North Hudson v. Randy J. Krongard
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, March 12, 2013)

In November of 2011, the Village of North Hudson issued 2 citations to Randy Krongard for having 2 junk vehicles in plain view on his property, which was contrary to North Hudson Village Ordinance §§ 90-41 and 90-44. The vehicles were considered junk vehicles because they had expired registrations. In December, Krongard pleaded not guilty in municipal court; however, he did not appear at the scheduled trial, so the court entered default judgment against him. In March of 2012, Krongard moved to vacate the municipal court’s judgment because “90-44 is void, unlawful, and invalid as preempted, contrary to, and inconsistent with” Wisconsin state law.  His motion was denied. Krongard appealed to the circuit court, which also denied his motion, and then to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The Village argued that Krongard’s appeal was an improper one because Krongard should be prohibited from appealing a default judgment. However, Krongard appealed the order denying his motion to vacate the default judgment. So Krongard’s appeal was properly before the circuit court and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

Before the court, Krongard argued that the circuit court wrongly denied his motion because the judgment against him was void, since the Village’s junk vehicle ordinance was invalid based on its conflict with state traffic regulations. An ordinance regarding traffic regulation “must be in strict conformity with state law,” otherwise it will be preempted. Krongard asserted the conflict stemmed from the ordinance’s defining unregistered vehicles as junk vehicles and regulating unregistered vehicles on private property. Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j) does not include unregistered vehicles in its definition of a “junk vehicle.” Instead it defines a “junk vehicle” as a “vehicle which is incapable of operation or use upon a highway and which has no resale value except as a source of parts or scrap” and a “vehicle for which an insurance company has taken possession of or title to if the estimated cost of repairing the vehicle exceeds its fair market value.” Also, state traffic regulations allow for vehicles to be parked on private property with the owner’s consent and only permit municipalities to regulate unregistered vehicles on highways. So Krongard held that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals must conclude the ordinance is invalid, rendering his judgment void.

The Village counter-argued that the state traffic regulations are concerned “with the licensing, regulation of, outfitting and operation of vehicles” and its ordinance is “concerned with the upkeep of private property,” which are “two completely different issues.” The Village also contended that its junk vehicle ordinance is not inconsistent with or contrary to the state’s definition of a junk vehicle.  The Village argued that, under Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j), a vehicle is junk if it is not capable of legal operation on the highway, and an unregistered vehicle is incapable of legal operation on the highway and therefore constitutes a junk vehicle.  Finally, the Village contended that parking motor vehicles is different than storing vehicles on private property.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded that nothing in the state traffic regulations provides that a municipality can regulate unregistered vehicles on private property and that Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j) defines a junk vehicle as one that is inoperable, not legally inoperable.  Therefore, the Village’s definition was broader than the traffic regulation. The ordinance requires owners of junk vehicles to notify and return the vehicle’s certificate of title to the Department of Transportation, but requires owners of unlicensed vehicles to keep their vehicles out of the public’s view. As such, the Village’s argument regarding the purpose of the ordinance and the ordinance’s language itself suggest that the ordinance is not a traffic regulation and the Village did not enact it pursuant to the power granted under the state traffic regulations.  Instead, it appears the ordinance may have been enacted using a different power, such as its zoning authority. However, because it could not be determined from the record whether the ordinance in question was a traffic regulation or part of a different regulatory scheme, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the order to the circuit court to determine the validity of the Village’s ordinance.

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