Wisconsin group petitions high court for certiorari

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Article originally published in the WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL - Monday, February 6, 2012.

A Wisconsin-based citizens group is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case challenging the annexation of a business park.

But the municipality in question says the group has no standing to make a federal constitutional challenge.

The parties might get word as early as next week if the federal justices will hear the case.

The dispute stems from the Nov. 20,2008, unanimous vote by the village of Richfield Board of Trustees to annex the "Helsan property" located within the Town of Polk. The property is referred to as a "balloon on a string" because it doesn't directly border the village of Richfield, but is connected by one road.

In 2009, Highway J Citizens Group, a nonprofit organization with approximately 15,000 members - many of whom are taxpayers, property owners and residents of both municipalities - filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration to void the annexation, or to reverse and remand the village's decision.

Washington County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Gonring dismissed on standing grounds, citing Village of Slinger v. Town of Hartford, 256 Wis.2d 859 (Ct. App. 2002).

The trial court noted that none of the Highway J members owns property within the annexed land, and reasoned that Highway J members would suffer no unique "pecuniary loss or injury" and no injury different from that of other community members.

The District II Court of Appeals affirmed in a six-page, unpublished per curiam decision Feb. 16, 2011, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined review.

Highway J wrote in its petition for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court dated Nov. 30, 2011, that by letting the intermediate appellate court ruling stand, Wisconsin's high court was under the belief it was following federal law and ruling according to precedent in the Seventh, Third and Fourth Circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals. However, the First, Second, Sixth, Ninth and D.C. Circuits, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, do not require a showing of actual pecuniary harm to establish municipal taxpayer standing.

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