June 23, 2017 – The Supreme Court constrained the rights of property owners Friday, establishing a test that favors government officials in assessing the loss of property value caused by government regulations.
The case concerned a Wisconsin family called the Murrs, who argued that the government has unconstitutionally taken their land by refusing to allow them to sell it.
The Murr family owns two pieces of property on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. They attempted to sell one of their waterfront lots (called “Lot E”) to finance improvements to a cabin they own on the second plot (called “Lot F”). The value of Lot E had been assessed at $400,000. Environmental officials blocked the sale for violating conservation rules. A county board further declared that state law required the two lots be merged into a single piece of property that could not be broken up and sold in smaller parcels.
In effect, the Murr family argues, the government-mandated merger of their properties stripped them of nearly half a million dollars, as they are now unable sell Lot E. They claim that this constitutes a violation of the Constitution’s takings clause, which prohibits the government from seizing private property for public use without “just compensation.”
The “taking” of the sort that occurred here is not a taking in the usual sense — the government has not seized any of the Murrs’ land. Rather, the family was subjected to a “regulatory taking” in which a law or regulation has effectually stripped them of their property.