Argument: January 17, 2017
CERTIFICATION FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS
Court Rock and Walworth County L.C. Nos. 2014CV1232 &
2014CV871 Barbara W. McCrory and Phillip A. Koss Judge
from consolidated orders of the Circuit Courts for Rock and
Walworth Counties. Reversed and cause remanded.
the petitioner-appellant, there were briefs filed by Sarah A.
Huck, Malinda Eskra and Reinhart, Boerner, Van Dueren, S.C.,
Milwaukee, and oral argument by Sarah Huck.
the respondents-respondents, there was a brief by Sara L.
Gehrig and Nowlan & Mouat LLP, Janesville, and oral
argument by Sara L. Gehrig.
PATIENCE DRAKE ROGGENSACK, C.J.
This appeal comes before the court on certification by the
court of appeals.Margaret Pulera (Pulera) appeals dismissals
of the petitions for certiorari review of highway orders
recorded in Rock and Walworth Counties. The issue certified is:
what event triggers the thirty-day period under Wis.Stat.
§ 68.13(1) (2013-14)during which certiorari review may be
obtained for a town board's highway order. To address
this issue, we must interpret the terms of § 68.13(1),
the statute affording certiorari review, in accord with
Wis.Stat. § 82.15, the statute governing appeals of
We conclude that the thirty-day period during which
certiorari review is available for a town board's highway
order to lay out, alter or discontinue a highway begins to
run on the date that the highway order is recorded by the
register of deeds. This interpretation best comports with the
language and structure of Wis.Stat. § 68.13 and
Wis.Stat. § 82.15. And, in addition, it provides
aggrieved persons and parties a date certain for commencement
of the thirty-day period during which judicial review of a
highway order is available.
Pulera's petitions were filed within thirty days of the
dates on which the highway orders were recorded by the
registers of deeds. Accordingly, we reverse the circuit
courts' orders granting the town boards' motions to
dismiss Pulera's petitions and remand for certiorari
review in either Walworth County Circuit Court or Rock County
Circuit Court, as the parties may agree.
The relevant facts in the present case are brief and
uncontested. The dispute arises from changes to an
intersection located at the county line between Rock and
Walworth Counties. Specifically, the intersection is located
where County Highway M crosses North County Line Road.
Without notifying the Town of Richmond, the Rock County
Highway Department made changes to this intersection. To
facilitate these changes, the Rock County Highway Department
had to discontinue two existing roads.
On September 9, 2014, the Town of Johnstown (Rock County) and
the Town of Richmond (Walworth County) held a joint meeting.
At the meeting, both town boards retroactively approved
changes to the intersection that the Rock County Highway
Department had already completed. This required the town
boards to approve construction of a new intersection as well
as discontinuance of portions of former
On October 3, 2014, the Richmond Town Board recorded its
highway order with the Walworth County Register of Deeds. The
order memorialized changes approved at the joint meeting of
the town boards. The Johnstown Town Board followed a month
later by recording its highway order with the Rock County
Register of Deeds on November 3, 2014.
On November 3, 2014, Pulera filed a certiorari petition in
Walworth County Circuit Court that sought review of the Town
of Richmond's highway order altering the intersection and
discontinuing portions of the highway. Similarly, on December
1, 2014, Pulera filed a certiorari petition in Rock County
Circuit Court seeking judicial review of the Town of
Johnstown's highway order approving alterations to the
same highway and intersection.
On January 23, 2015, each town filed a motion to dismiss
Pulera's certiorari action. The towns alleged that
Pulera's petitions were untimely because neither petition
was filed within thirty days of Pulera's receipt of the
towns' decision to alter the highway as they alleged is
required by Wis.Stat. § 68.13.
Rock County Circuit Court dismissed Pulera's action as
untimely. The court reasoned that the thirty-day period
during which certiorari review may be sought for a highway
order commenced when Pulera received actual notice of the
vote of the Johnstown Town Board. The circuit court rejected
Pulera's argument that the thirty-day period commenced
when the register of deeds recorded the town board's
The Walworth County Circuit Court also dismissed Pulera's
claim as untimely. Unlike the Rock County Circuit Court, the
Walworth County Circuit Court concluded that the thirty-day
period for seeking certiorari review commenced with the town
board's vote. The Walworth County Circuit Court also
dismissed the claim for improper venue because a portion of
the highway is exclusively in Rock County.
The court of appeals consolidated the cases on appeal and
certified them for our review. We now reverse.
Standard of Review
The present case requires us to interpret and apply Wis.Stat.
§ 68.13 and Wis.Stat. § 82.15. Statutory
interpretation and application present questions of law that
we review independently, while benefitting from the circuit
courts' analyses. Marder v. Bd. of Regents of Univ.
of Wis. Sys., 2005 WI 159, ¶19, 286 Wis.2d 252, 706
Statutory Construction, General Principles
"Judicial deference to the policy choices enacted into
law by the legislature requires that statutory interpretation
focus primarily on the language of the statute."
State ex rel. Kalal v. Circuit Court for Dane Cty.,
2004 WI 58, ¶44, 271 Wis.2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110.
Accordingly, "statutory interpretation 'begins with
the language of the statute. If the meaning of the statute is
plain, we ordinarily stop the inquiry.'"
Id., ¶45 (quoting Seider v.
O'Connell, 2000 WI 76, ¶43, 236 Wis.2d 211, 612
N.W.2d 659) . "Statutory language is given its common,
ordinary, and accepted meaning, except that technical or
specially-defined words or phrases are given their technical
or special definitional meaning." Id. (citing
Bruno v. Milwaukee Cty., 2003 WI 28, ¶¶8,
20, 260 Wis.2d 633, 660 N.W.2d 656) .
"Context is important to meaning." Id.,
¶46. For this reason, "statutory language is
interpreted in the context in which it is used; not in
isolation but as part of a whole; in relation to the language
of surrounding or closely-related statutes; and reasonably,
to avoid absurd or unreasonable results." Id.
(citing State v. Delaney, 2003 WI 9, ¶13, 259
Wis.2d 77, 658 N.W.2d 416). And, we interpret statutes in
such a way as to give effect to each word. Id.
("Statutory language is read where possible to give
reasonable effect to every word, in order to avoid
surplusage." (citing State v. Martin, 162
Wis.2d 883, 894, 470 N.W.2d 900 (1991)).
"Where statutory language is unambiguous, there is no
need to consult extrinsic sources of interpretation, such as
legislative history." Id. (citing
Bruno, 260 Wis.2d 633, ¶20). "The test for
ambiguity generally keeps the focus on the statutory
language: a statute is ambiguous if it is capable of being
understood by reasonably well-informed persons in two or more
senses." Id., ¶47 (citing Bruno,
260 Wis.2d 633, ¶19) .
It is within this framework that we interpret and apply the
time limits of Wis.Stat. § 68.13(1) as affected by
Wis.Stat. § 82.15.
Wisconsin Stat. § 68.13
Wisconsin Stat. § 68.01 governs appeals from many types
of municipal administrative decisions. It provides:
Any person having a substantial interest which is adversely
affected by an administrative determination of a governing
body, board, commission, committee, agency, officer or
employee of a municipality or agent acting on behalf of a
municipality as set forth in s. 68.02, may have such
determination reviewed as provided in this chapter. Wisconsin
Stat. § 68.13(1) provides further guidance: "Any
party to a proceeding resulting in a final determination may
seek review thereof by certiorari within 30 days of receipt
of the final determination." A person aggrieved by a
highway order has the same right of appeal.
Wis. Stat. § 82.15. Accordingly, a person or party who
receives a final adverse determination from a municipal
administrative body has thirty days from its receipt to
appeal. However, when a determination is "final"
and when a party is in "receipt" of such a
determination are not defined. These words can become
particularly opaque in the context of highway orders issued
under Wis.Stat. § 82.12.
Under Wis.Stat. § 82.03(1) (a), a "town board shall
have the care and supervision of all highways under the
town's jurisdiction." However, a town board that
decides to lay out, alter or discontinue a highway must
follow the specific statutory requirements detailed in
Wis.Stat. ch. 82. Furthermore, there are two ways in which a
town board may lay out, alter or discontinue a highway.
First, a town board, on its own initiative, can introduce a
resolution to lay out, alter or discontinue a highway.
Wis.Stat. § 82.10(3) . Alternatively, town residents may
petition their town board to "lay out, alter, or
discontinue any highway." Wis.Stat. § 82.12(10).
Under either method, a town board is required to provide
notice to various landowners and governmental bodies.
See Wis.Stat. §§ 82.10(3) &
(4). In addition, a town board is required to
hold a public hearing to decide whether creating, altering or
discontinuing a highway is in the public interest. Wis.Stat.
§ 82.11(1) ("At the time and place stated in the
notice under s. 82.10, the town board shall hold a public
hearing to decide, in its discretion, whether granting the
application or resolution is in the public interest.") .
Pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 82.12(2), a town board must
issue a "highway order" if it decides to grant a
petition or approve a resolution to lay out, alter or
discontinue a highway. The vote of a town board, in and of
itself, does not create a highway order; rather, a
"highway order" is a document that is statutorily
described in regard to the particulars the document must
include. Wis.Stat. § 82.01(3). In addition,
to give effect to a highway order, the town board is required
to take several delineated steps. Wisconsin Stat. §
The highway order shall be recorded with the register of
deeds for the county in which the highway is or will be
located and shall be filed with the town clerk. The town
clerk shall submit a certified copy of the order to the
county highway commissioner. If the town has an official map,
the order shall be incorporated into the official map.
Wis. Stat. § 82.12 (2) .
A person aggrieved by a highway order has the right to seek
judicial review of a town board's highway order.
Wisconsin Stat. § 82.15 provides: "Any person
aggrieved by a highway order, or a refusal to issue such an
order, may seek judicial review under s. 68.13. If the
highway is on the line between 2 counties, the appeal may be
in the circuit court of either county." Wis.Stat. §
If a person or party is aggrieved by a highway order, they
may seek review of the order using the certiorari process
outlined in Wis.Stat. § 68.13(1) . However, a person or
party aggrieved by a highway order is subject to the same
thirty-day period during which review may be sought, as are
others who seek certiorari review under § 68.13(1).
A "final determination" by the town is a condition
precedent to certiorari review under Wis.Stat. §
68.13. In addition, Wis.Stat. ch. 82 provides
that a highway order must be issued when a town decides to
lay out, alter or discontinue a highway. Wis.Stat. §
82.12(2). It is the highway order that "contains a legal
description of what the order intends to accomplish and a
scale map of the land affected by the order." Wis.Stat.
§ 82.01 (3) .
In addition, it is the recording by the register of deeds
that gives public notice of the town board's decision.
Public notice is important because there may be persons
aggrieved by the town board's decision that were not
aware of it. And, the legislature has recognized the
importance of this function of the register of deeds. For
example, Wis.Stat. § 840.11 governs petitions to alter
streets, parks, and other public places. It provides no
"order, judgment or decree or final resolution or order
taking or affecting such land . . . shall be notice to any
subsequent purchaser or encumbrancer unless a certified copy
thereof, containing a legal description ... of the land
affected thereby, and accompanied with a map showing the
location thereof, is recorded in the office of the register
of deeds of the county in which the land is situated."
§ 840.11(2); see also Wis.Stat. § 107.25.
Moreover, when real estate is bought or sold, it is to the
records of the register of deeds that one looks in a title
search for restrictions on land. One purpose recording in the
register of deeds is to ensure the public has notice of any
changes to real property that occur. See generally,
Wis.Stat. § 59.43 (2015-16) . Therefore, a town's
decision in regard to laying out, altering or discontinuing a
highway is not final until the register of deeds records the
town's highway order.
Furthermore, the precise geographic location of the highway
in its new form is not provided to the public until the
register of deeds records the town's highway order.
See Wis.Stat. § 82.12(2) ("If the town has
an official map, the [highway] order shall be incorporated
into the official map."). Persons seeking to appeal a
town's decision laying out, altering or discontinuing a
highway may not know the metes and bounds description of the
new form of the highway before it is recorded by the register
of deeds. Therefore, the triggering event for
judicial review of a highway order cannot commence prior to
the public being notified of the precise characteristics of
the order, i.e. until the register of deeds records it. It
would be imprudent to expect persons or parties to make a
reasoned decision about whether to seek certiorari review
without a precise, recorded highway order. And, for this
reason, we generally require a written order from which to
appeal. See generally, Ramsthal Advertising
Agency v. Energy Miser, Inc., 90 Wis.2d 74, 75, 279
N.W.2d 491 (Ct. App. 1979) ("An order, to be appealable,
must be in writing and filed." (citation omitted));
Helmrick v. Helmrick, 95 Wis.2d 554, 556, 291 N.W.2d
582 (Ct. App. 1980).
Beginning the thirty-day period on the date on which the
register of deeds records the order also gives effect to the
word "receipt" in the phrase "receipt of the
final determination" in Wis.Stat. § 68.13(1) . The
register of deeds recording a highway order gives the public
receipt of the proposed highway alteration.
The practical benefits of concluding that recording the
highway order starts the thirty-day period for judicial
review are significant. Specifically, it provides a clear and
definite triggering event for commencement of the thirty-day
period. And, persons and parties seeking
certiorari review of a highway order easily can ascertain the
start of that thirty-day period. The deadline for filing a
certiorari petition will be the same for all, and factual
disputes as to the date by which a certiorari action should
have been filed will be less frequent.
Accordingly, a person or party seeking certiorari review of a
town board's decision to lay out, alter or discontinue a
highway must file the petition for certiorari review within
thirty days of the register of deeds recording the highway
order. This triggering event for finality and receipt of the