DoT must pay just compensation for property erroneously recorded as “dedication” on plat map

by Hannah Dankbar and Gary Taylor

Somers USA, LLC v. Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Wisconsin Court of Appeals, March 25, 2015

Somers purchased about 47 acres in 2007 to build a truck stop off of I-94. At the time the state was planning on using about 9.5 of those acres for a frontage road, and about 3 acres for an on ramp for a highway project. An engineering company helped create the Certified Survey Map (CSM).  The initial draft of the CSM reserved both the 9.5-acre and the 3-acre parcels as “Future Wisconsin D.O.T. Right-of-Way.”  The Kenosha County Land Use Committee approved the CSM without any conditions or communications regarding land dedication for public use.

In 2008 when Somers recorded their final CSM it dedicated the 9.5 acres as “Road Dedication for Future Highway Purposes,” and the 3 acres as “a road reservation for potential future state highway purposes.” All parties agree that Somers never intended to dedicate land for the highway project and that none of the governmental bodies involved had required or asked for a dedication. Individuals involved with drafting and signing the CSM stated that they do not know how the “dedication” language wound up in the document.  The State thereafter built a frontage road and on-ramp on the two parcels without compensating Somers, relying on the “reservation” and “dedication” language in the CSM to give it a right to the property without any requirement to pay Somers for the land taken. Somers filed a complaint seeking just compensation for their land. The court ordered the state to pay Somers $500,000 plus attorney fees, costs and interest. The state appealed this decision.

The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution and Article I section 13 of the Wisconsin Constitution prohibit the taking of land without just compensation. The state relied on Wis. Stat. §236.29(1) which states, ““[w]hen any plat is certified, signed, acknowledged and recorded as prescribed in this chapter, every donation or grant to the public … marked or noted as such on said plat shall be deemed a sufficient conveyance to vest the fee simple of all parcels of land so marked or noted.” However, for the state to rely on this statute the land must be dedicated according to proper procedure under Wis. Stat. §236.34(1m)(e), which require a local governing board to approve the dedication in the CSM. No governmental board involved in Somers’ development approved any road dedication or land grant for inclusion in the CSM; therefore, the CSM lacked the force and effect required to convey the property to the State.

The court went on:  “Undeterred by the evidence that no dedication was ever intended or approved, the State proffers the absurd argument that it can still take Somers’ property without compensation as it was entitled to rely on an invalid dedication in a CSM.”

When a court leads by calling an argument “absurd” you can anticipate the results….

The court found no legal dedication, and therefore found that the state owes just compensation to the Somers.

 

 

 

 

 

Dust, noise from bridge project did not give rise to taking or public nuisance claims

by Hannah Dankbar and Gary Taylor

Sommer v Ohio Department of Transportation
Ohio Court of Appeals, Tenth District, December 23, 2014

In 2007 Nick Sommer and Alyssa Birge bought a home in the Tremont neighborhood in Cleveland. In 2010 the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) started construction to replace the “Innerbelt Central Viaduct truss bridge.”

The first phase of the project was to realign the sewer system.  This phase of the project ran from September 2010 to July 2011. The construction was coordinated between ODOT and Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD). This phase of construction took place around Sommer’s home and resulted in “construction noise” and the closure of traffic lanes around Sommer’s home. The driving of piles into bedrock for the westbound bridge “create[d] a loud banging sound.”  In June 2012 Sommer filed a complaint against ODOT complaining that the construction resulted in “extreme noise, pounding and vibrations *** separate and distinct from that experience by other affected properties,” and causing his home to be uninhabitable.  Sommer sought declaration of inverse condemnation, as well as a public and private nuisance.  The Court of Claims filed an entry granting ODOT’s motion for summary judgment.

Sommer claimed that the Court of Claims was wrong by (1) not examining their inverse condemnation (takings) claim under the proper legal standard, and (2) granting summary judgment in favor of ODOT on their takings claim.

Sommer argued that the proper analysis for the takings claim was the three-part test set forth by the US Supreme Court in 1978 in Penn Central Transportation Co. v New York:

[w]here a regulation places limitations on land that falls short of elimination all economically beneficial use, a taking nonetheless may have occurred, depending on a complex list of factors including (1) the regulation’s economic effect on the landowner, (2) the extent to which the regulation interferes with reasonable investment-backed expectations, and (3) the character of the government action.”

ODOT countered that because Sommer waited until the appeal to raise this claim, it should not stand.  The Court of Appeals agreed, noting that Sommer’s response to ODOT’s summary judgment motion contained no citation to either Penn Central, or to its three-part test.  It also noted that the lower court did analyze Sommer’s claim under Ohio state caselaw, specifically a 1966 case that recognized a taking as “any direct encroachment upon land, which subjects it to a public use that excludes or restricts the dominion and control of the owner over it.”  The Court of Appeals found no error by the lower court.

The next claim on appeal is that the Court of Claims was wrong to interpret the Ohio law that requires a physical invasion of property or a complete denial of access and that issues of material fact still remain as to whether ODOT substantially interfered with appellants’ use and enjoyment of their property in such a degree as to amount to inverse condemnation. While Sommer complained about how the construction “prohibits you from relaxing completely,” he was never denied access to his property and did not claim any physical damage to his property, prerequisites to an inverse condemnation claim per Ohio caselaw.  “An increase in vibration and dust caused by a highway improvement, both from the construction and from the increase in traffic from the expanded highway, is not compensable as a taking.”  It is assumed that once the construction is complete Sommer will be able to enjoy his property as he did before the construction.

Finally, among Sommer’s other claims he alleged that “a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding whether the harm suffered by appellants was different in kind than suffered by property owners.”  Ohio defines a public nuisance as “an unreasonable interference with a right common to the public.” A private individual does not have standing to claim a public nuisance unless the individual can show that they suffered an injury or damage that was not incurred by the general public. The Court of Appeals reviewed the uncontroverted evidence that the inconveniences experienced by Sommer were also experienced by others in the neighborhood, and concluded that since Sommer failed to show how the harm done to his is different than the harm to others in the neighborhood his claim cannot stand.

Conditional use permit requirement did not constitute a taking

by Victoria Heldt

Peter J. Butzen, D/B/A Falls Metals, Inc. v. City of Sheboygan Falls
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, February 29, 2012)

Peter J. Butzen owns a piece of property within the City of Sheboygan Falls that is zoned C2 commercial.  He operated a scrap metal recycling business on the land during the 1990s which grew in size to the point that it appeared to be a junkyard.  In January 2000 the City decided the use of the land exceeded the scope of what was permitted in the C2 district.  It advised Butzen to clean up and make some modifications and apply for a conditional use permit, which Butzen did in February.  In April 2000 (before it considered Butzen’s application) the City amended the ordinance under which Butzen applied with Ordinance 11.  This ordinance eliminated all permitted uses in C2 zoning districts unless the owner received a conditional use permit.  The City advised Butzen that if he performed the specified cleanup actions, the committee would recommend his permit application be granted.  Butzen was given several deadlines through 2001 to complete the cleanup, but never completed the actions.

In November 2007 Butzen filed for a conditional use permit but was denied since the application was incomplete.  In July 2008 the Supreme Court decided Town of Rhine v. Bizzell in which it concluded that a zoning provision such as Sheboygan Falls’ Ordinance No. 11 is unconstitutional on its face if it precludes any use as of right in a zoning district and if the limitation bears no substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals or general welfare.  In response, the Sheboygan Falls passed a moratorium on development in its C1, C2, and C3 zoning districts to prevent any further development until it decided how to move forward after the Town of Rhine ruling.

Butzen continued to use his property and filed a complaint seeking a judicial determination regarding the constitutionality of Ordinance 11 and questioning the validity of the City’s moratorium.  The circuit court, following the lead of the Supreme Court in the Town of Rhine case, declared Ordinance 11 to be unconstitutional.  It did, however, uphold the validity of the moratorium.  Butzen filed an inverse condemnation complaint asserting that the City’s actions amounted to a taking of his property.  He also raised a substantive due process claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983 that the City’s efforts to enforce the ordinance violations were arbitrary and capricious.  The circuit court found that he did not sufficiently establish either of the claims and that they were barred by a statute of limitations.  This appeal followed.

On appeal, Butzen focused only on the “takings” claim.  He asserted that “because of the Town of Rhine ruling, Ordinance No. 11 unconstitutionally eliminated all use of his C2-zoned property without a conditional use permit, resulting in a regulatory taking.”  According to statute, a regulatory taking occurs when a regulation denies a landowner all or substantially all practical uses of his or her property.  The Court noted that Butzen overlooked two key findings within the circuit court’s rulings.  First, the denial of Butzen’s permit was based on the ordinance in effect prior to Ordinance 11, so the determination of Ordinance 11 as unconstitutional was not relevant to his claimed injury.  Second, the fact that Butzen needed a conditional use permit to run the scrap metal shop did not deprive him of “substantially all” beneficial uses of the property since he could still conduct other business there.  The Court concluded Butzen did not sufficiently show that a regulatory taking occurred and affirmed the circuit court’s decision.

Statute of limitation runs on claims resulting from stormwater discharge

by Victoria Heldt

Charles Tsamardinos and Suzanne Tsamardinos v. Town of Burlington
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, December 7, 2011)

Charles and Suzanne Tsamardinos own a residential property in Burlington.  They brought a claim for inverse condemnation against the Town of Burlington, arguing that the increased presence of draining water on their property after the development of Villa Heights Subdivision constitutes “physical occupation” by the Town, and results in a taking.  Storm water from Cedar Drive and from Villa Heights Subdivision flows through a culvert, across their property, and into Brown Lake, and that by this action the Town “has incorporated part of their property into its storm water management system.”  They provided two expert witnesses, the first being Hey and Associates, Inc.  The company reported that the problem was indeed due to water flowing through the culvert under Cedar Drive and that the Town was responsible for the drainage system.  Jendusa Design, the second expert witness, similarly described the source of the problem and reported that the flooding had been occurring over the past eight years. The district court denied the claim, finding that a legal taking did not occur, and further finding that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled against the Tsamardinos on the grounds that the statutes of limitations had expired regarding the issue. First,  Wis Stat. §88.87(2)(c) states that a property owner has three years to file a complaint if a government agency has damaged property due to negligent construction a highway or railroad grade (this would include the culvert).  Since the culvert was constructed 24 years prior, and flooding problems had been occurring for at least 8 years according to the expert witnesses, the Tsamardinos filed the complaint too late.  In response to the alternative claim that the water run-off is due to the development of the Villa Heights subdivision, the Court found that claim to be barred as well.  The governing statue requires a complaint to be filed within ten years of completion of the improvement on the property.  Since Villa Heights was recorded in 1948 and graded in the mid-1960’s, the ten year period had expired.  The Tsamardonoses argued that they should be permitted to file a complaint outside the ten year required period since the time limit does not apply to those affected by negligence in maintenance.  The Court concluded that their problem was not the result of negligent maintenance, but of the development of the subdivision, they were subject to the ten year limit.

The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision in favor of the Town of Burlington.

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