The Wisconsin Supreme Court held oral arguments on several notable cases in September. (Calendar and case synopses.) Issues before the court included legal nonconforming uses, successor liability, and annexation.
Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC v. Division of Hearings & Appeals (Legal Nonconforming Use) – Sept. 4
This case will review whether the enlargement of a nonconforming outdoor advertising sign along an interstate highway caused it to lose its nonconforming status, making it illegal and subject to removal. The Supreme Court will determine whether Wis. Stat. § 84.30(14) and Wis. Admin. Code § TRANS 201.10(2)(e) prohibit enlarging legal but nonconforming signs, whether the Department of Transportation (DOT) should have provided the sign owner a right to cure, and whether DOT’s policy change violated Wis. Stat. Ch. 227 rulemaking requirements. Read more about the case.
Veritas Steel, LLC v. Lunda Construction Co. (Successor Liability) – Sept. 19
In this case, the Supreme Court will review the Court of Appeals’s narrow application of the “de facto merger” and “mere continuation” exceptions to Wisconsin’s general rule against successor liability. The court will review previous case law Fish v. Amsted Indus. Inc., which held that these exceptions apply when there is an identity of ownership, evidenced by a transfer of ownership for stock or a continuity of owners between the selling and purchasing entities.
Lunda Construction, which was seeking a $16 million judgment from successor company Veritas, argues that an identity of control could show a mere continuation from seller to purchaser, establishing successor liability. The appeals court acknowledged the tension between its narrow reading of the de facto merger and mere continuation exceptions in Fish and the ability of entities to achieve what is essentially a merger or continuation without satisfying the strict “identity of ownership” requirement. However, the appeals court said it is bound by Fish, and only the Supreme Court could change this interpretation of the exceptions. Read more about the case.
Town of Wilson v. City of Sheboygan (Annexation of Town) – Sept. 19
The Supreme Court will review Kohler Co.’s petition to annex land from the Town of Wilson to the City of Sheboygan for the purpose of developing a golf course. The City of Sheboygan adopted the annexation ordinance, and the Town of Wilson filed this lawsuit.
The Town argues that the annexation does not satisfy statutory requirements for contiguity, certified population count, and signatures. Furthermore, the City did not show there was a need for the annexed property.
On the other hand, the City argues they and Kohler followed all statutory requirements related to the annexation. Furthermore, the City argues it had a need for expanded residential housing and other economic benefits provided by the annexation.