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Jensen v. Village of Mount Pleasant

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

May 2, 2018

RODNEY JENSEN et al., Plaintiffs,


          LYNN ADELMAN District Judge.

         In 2017, the Village of Mount Pleasant entered into a development agreement requiring it to acquire private property for the construction and operation of manufacturing facilities that Foxconn Technology Group, a private company, plans to use to produce liquid crystal displays for consumer electronic devices like televisions. Rodney Jensen and other owners of property subject to acquisition under the terms of the development agreement bring this lawsuit against Mount Pleasant, Village President David DeGroot, and the Village of Mount Pleasant Community Development Authority alleging past, ongoing, and threatened violations of their federal constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Jensen and his fellow plaintiffs seek declarations that the development agreement and defendants' conduct are unconstitutional and orders enjoining defendants from continuing to infringe their rights. Defendants move to dismiss the case arguing, among other things, that plaintiffs' claims are not yet “ripe” for consideration in federal court. Before considering defendants' arguments for dismissal, I briefly describe the asserted legal bases and supporting factual allegations for plaintiffs' claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs assert claims under the Fifth Amendment's takings clause and the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection and due process clauses. The takings clause bars the government from taking private property unless (1) the taking is for a “public purpose” and (2) the government provides “just compensation” to the property owner. The equal protection clause prohibits intentional and arbitrary discrimination by government officials. Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000) (quoting Sioux City Bridge Co. v. Dakota County, 260 U.S. 441, 445 (1923)). And the due process clause, as a “substantive” matter, forbids abuses of governmental power that are so arbitrary and oppressive that they shock the conscience. Catinella v. Cook County, 881 F.3d 514, 519 (7th Cir. 2018).

         In support of their claims, plaintiffs allege that defendants plan to take their properties in order to sell or lease them to Foxconn for its private use. They allege that, to facilitate these takings, defendants first plan to take a strip of land from each of their properties, which abut major area roads; expand those roads, primarily for Foxconn's use and benefit; cut off their existing driveways; and prevent them from building new driveways connected to the expanded roads. Plaintiffs allege that defendants plan to use this “landlocking scheme” to “blight” their properties in order to circumvent a state-law prohibition on condemnation of “not blighted property” that “the condemnor intends to convey or lease . . . to a private entity.” See Wis. Stat. § 32.03(6)(b).

         Plaintiffs further allege that defendants are treating them much worse than their neighbors. For one thing, plaintiffs say, defendants are not planning to carry out their landlocking scheme against all of the properties Mount Pleasant is contractually obligated to acquire for the Foxconn development, nor are they planning to acquire all of those properties through condemnation. Rather, plaintiffs allege that defendants have offered generous “option packages” to the owners of numerous other properties, for which they will receive (and, in many cases, already have received) up to ten times the fair market value of their properties. Plaintiffs say they have been offered as little as 1.4 times the value of their properties to sell and otherwise face condemnation.

         Finally, plaintiffs allege that defendants' made a rushed and careless decision to approve and facilitate the Foxconn development. Specifically, plaintiffs say that defendants shirked their responsibility to rigorously assess the environmental impact of the development, thereby depriving them and other property owners in the area of public protection from private environmental harms.


         Defendants move to dismiss plaintiffs' claims primarily arguing that they are not ripe for adjudication, which simply means that it is too soon for a federal court to consider them. See Nat'l Park Hosp. Ass'n v. Dep't of Interior, 538 U.S. 803, 807-08 (2003) (quoting Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148-49 (1967)); Flying J Inc. v. City of New Haven, 549 F.3d 538, 544 (7th Cir. 2008); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Defendants also argue that plaintiffs' allegations about their decision making process and failure to produce an environmental impact statement for the Foxconn project fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, meaning that even if those allegations are true, plaintiffs are not entitled, as a result of them, to any relief that this court can provide. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         A. Ripeness

         The ripeness doctrine requires federal courts to “avoid[] . . . premature adjudication” of claims, which can run afoul of “Article III limitations on judicial power” and “prudential reasons for refusing to exercise jurisdiction.” Nat'l Park Hosp. Ass'n, 538 U.S. at 807-08 (quoting Abbott Labs., 387 U.S. at 148; Reno v. Catholic Soc. Servs., Inc., 509 U.S. 43, 57 n.18 (1993)). Courts apply different ripeness standards to different types of claims, depending on the circumstances presented, so I must first determine which standard applies to each of plaintiffs' claims and then assess whether each claim is ripe under the applicable standard.

         1. Takings Claims

         In general, claims asserted under the Fifth Amendment's takings clause are subject to the ripeness standard described by the Supreme Court in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). Under Williamson County, a claim is not ripe until the government entity responsible for the taking in question has made a “final decision” about the taking and the property owner has “exhausted” all available state procedures for challenging the taking. See Peters v. Village of Clifton, 498 F.3d 727, 732 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Forseth v. Village of Sussex, 199 F.3d 363, 372 (7th Cir. 2000)).

         Plaintiffs argue that, although Williamson County applies to some takings claims, it does not apply to claims, like theirs, that are based on the Fifth Amendment's “public use” requirement. Many federal circuit courts of appeals agree. See Fideicomiso De La Tierra Del Caño Martin Peña v. Fortuño, 604 F.3d 7, 16 (1st Cir. 2010) (collecting cases). But unlike those courts, the Seventh Circuit has consistently held that Williamson County applies to all claims under the takings clause, including those “alleging a taking for private purpose.” See Daniels v. Area Plan ...

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