Murr-dering a Wisconsin family’s property rights

Photo sourced from The Leader-Telegram

In 1995, the parents of the four Murr siblings passed ownership of two waterfront lots to their children. Four siblings … two lots. Yea, this is a recipe for family harmony! In 2004, when the siblings attempted to sell the second lot, chaos ensued. I’m sure at this point you’re expecting a juicy story about sibling rivalry and blood soaked soil. Could we be talking Murr-der?

While this case is ground breaking (pun intended), we’re talking regulatory takings under the Fifth Amendment, not criminal homicide. Under the Fifth Amendment, the government cannot take private property without adequate compensation. This makes sense. If Uncle Sam takes your land, he should pay fair market price. He may be your uncle, but there is no family discount for Uncle Sam!

Concerning this taking, the city passed an ordinance that joined the two lots of property, and then prohibited landowners from selling parts of their property if it is less than one acre. Yes you read that right! The city passed an ordinance joining the two properties, and then said an owner cannot divide up its property and sell off parts that are less than one acre. Well thanks for nothing! Then why did the city join the properties! The Murrs would not be dividing up the properties if they had not been joined!

In Legal Terms

In legal terms, a city ordinance is a “taking” when the ordinance deprived the owners of “all, or practically all, of the use of” the land. To see a hilarious bit on unconstitutional takings, watch this Castle movie montage on YouTube.

So did the city’s action deprive the owners of “all, or practically all, of the use” of this second lot? In this YouTube interview, the Murr siblings share how the cabin built on the first parcel has become a beloved family vacation spot and that they intended to use the money collected from selling the second parcel to make much needed improvements to the cabin.

The Plot Thickens

It is also ironic to note that although the city claims that the lots are really just one, they have continued to tax the parcels as two. No one appreciates unnecessary taxation, am I right??

The second ironic twist is that the reason the Murr siblings wanted to sell one of the lots was to have enough money to build a cabin on the other. Don’t you think that the price of all of the attorneys involved might dwarf the cost of the new cabin? You could build a palace with those fees! This case has now been pending for thirteen years!

This case will boil down to how should the Court define property? Should the two lots be considered as one or two? Here, the Murrs allege that the city merged the existing property lines in order to avoid liability for an unconstitutional taking. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on March 20th, 2017. So stay tuned to see how this family’s fight ends.

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