The Wisconsin Supreme Court kicked off its 2012-13 term by hearing oral arguments in a number of cases. Two of the first few cases are of interest to Hamilton Consulting clients.
Rock-Koshkonong Lake District v. Department of Natural Resources (2008AP1523)
Depending on how the court rules, the rights of every riparian landowner in the state could be impacted by this case.
The case began when a petition filed by the Rock-Koshkonong Lake District to raise water levels on Lake Koshkonong was denied by the DNR. Property owners and businesses appealed, arguing that Lake Koshkonong’s low water levels have had a negative effect on property values and business income.
The first issue to be decided by the court is whether the DNR must take into account the impact water levels have on property values.
Secondly, in the lower court, the Department of Natural Resources argued it has the authority to regulate private, non-navigable wetlands under the public trust doctrine. This would be a major expansion of the DNR’s authority if the court agrees.
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Bostco LLC v. Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Dist. (2010AP2313)
This case involved a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for damages sustained to the Boston Store building in downtown Milwaukee, which is owned by Bostco LLC. Bostco alleged that the District’s negligent maintenance of a 19-mile, 32-foot diameter sewer and stormwater tunnel in downtown Milwaukee caused damage to its building.
The jury awarded Bostco over $6 million in damages. However, the trial court reduced the damages to $50,000 based on the municipal damage cap under Wis. Stat. § 893.80(3). Bostco appealed to the appellate court, which upheld the cap based on the statutory cap of $50,000 on municipal liability. The appellate court rejected the argument that the cap violated the equal protection clause of the Wisconsin Constitution and upheld the trial court’s decision.
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order directing the District to install a concrete liner to the storwmater tunnel, which would cost an estimated $10 million.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral argument on September 6, 2012 and is expected to issue a decision in the case by the end of the 2012-13 term.