from a judgment of the circuit court for Marathon County: No.
2017CV207 GREGORY B. HUBER, Judge. Reversed and cause
remanded for further proceedings.
Stark, P.J., Hruz and Seidl, JJ.
This appeal involves a dispute between the Town of Rib
Mountain (Rib Mountain) and Marathon County (the County)
regarding the County's plan to implement a uniform
addressing system in all unincorporated areas of the County.
Rib Mountain argues the County exceeded its statutory
authority because Wis . Stat . § 59.54(4) and (4m)
(2015-16) permit the County to implement such a
system only in unincorporated areas that also qualify as
"rural." We agree with Rib Mountain's
interpretation of § 59.54(4) and (4m). We therefore
reverse the circuit court's judgment denying Rib
Mountain's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief
and remand for further proceedings on those claims.
On February 16, 2016, the County enacted Ordinance #O-7-16
(the Ordinance), mandating the creation of a uniform
addressing system in the County. According to the Ordinance,
the County's intent in implementing this system was
"to assign each location a unique address which will aid
emergency personal [sic] in providing fire protection,
emergency medical services, and law enforcement services; and
meet other general locational needs such as delivery services
of the public." The Ordinance stated the uniform
addressing system would apply "to each road, home,
business, farm, structure, or other establishments [sic] in
the unincorporated areas of the County." Towns are
unincorporated under Wisconsin law, unlike villages and
cities. See, e.g., Wis.Stat. § 60.05
(discussing the "organization" of towns in special
cases); Wis.Stat. §§ 66.0201-66.0213 (discussing
the "incorporation" of villages and cities).
Consistent with the authority granted by the Ordinance, the
County published a draft Uniform Addressing Implementation
Plan (the Plan) on January 11, 2017. The Plan required all
towns in the County to participate in the County's
uniform addressing system. It asserted the County had
"jurisdiction over addressing in unincorporated areas
based on [Wis. Stat. §] 59.54(4) and (4m)." Those
(4) Rural naming or numbering system. The
board may establish a rural naming or numbering
system in towns for the purpose of aiding in fire protection,
emergency services, and civil defense, and appropriate and
expend money therefor, under which:
(a) Each rural road, home, business, farm or other
establishment, may be assigned a name or number.
(b) The names or numbers may be displayed on uniform signs
posted on rural roads and intersections, and at each home,
business, farm or other establishment.
(4m) Rural naming or numbering system; town
cooperation. The rural naming or numbering system under sub.
(4) may be carried out in cooperation with any town or towns
in the county.
Sec. 59.54(4) and (4m).
The County subsequently notified Rib Mountain-a town located
in the County-that it would be required to rename 61 of its
202 roads. In response, Rib Mountain filed the instant
lawsuit against the County, seeking declaratory and
injunctive relief. Rib Mountain argued the County's
authority to implement a naming or numbering system under
Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4) and (4m) extended only to
"rural" areas in towns, rather than to all
unincorporated areas of the County. Rib Mountain contended
the County had "failed to consider" whether the
roads affected by its Plan were in rural areas and therefore
fell within the County's "statutory authority to
implement a naming and numbering system upon." Rib
Mountain further alleged that some of the roads it would be
required to rename under the County's Plan had previously
been "identified … as roads located in urban
areas" by either the Marathon County Metropolitan
Planning Commission or the United States Census
Bureau. (Emphasis omitted.)
On August 31, 2017, following briefing by Rib Mountain and
the County, the circuit court issued a decision denying Rib
Mountain's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief.
The court agreed with the County that the term
"rural" in Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4) and (4m) meant
"unincorporated" and was not "intended as a
way of excluding urban areas." As support for that
conclusion, the court cited the plain language and history of
§ 59.54(4) and (4m), along with this court's
decision in Liberty Grove Town Board v. Door County Board
of Supervisors, 2005 WI.App. 166, 284 Wis.2d 814, 702
N.W.2d 33. The court therefore declared that the County's
Plan and Ordinance "[did] not violate § 59.54(4) by
including urbanized parts of Rib Mountain or any other
town." Rib Mountain now appeals.
This appeal requires us to interpret Wis.Stat. §
59.54(4) and (4m). Statutory interpretation presents a
question of law that we review independently. Wisconsin
Prof'l Police Ass'n v. WERC, 2013 WI.App. 145,
¶11, 352 Wis.2d 218, 841 N.W.2d 839.
When interpreting a statute, our objective "is to
determine what the statute means so that it may be given its
full, proper, and intended effect." State ex rel.
Kalal v. Circuit Court for Dane Cty., 2004 WI 58,
¶44, 271 Wis.2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110. Our analysis begins
with the plain language of the statute. Id.,
¶45. "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. In
addition, statutory language must be 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., ¶46. Where
possible, we must read statutory language so as to "give
reasonable effect to every word, in order to avoid
We are not at liberty to disregard a statute's plain,
clear words. Id. Consequently, if the analytical
process described above "yields a plain, clear statutory
meaning, then there is no ambiguity, and the statute is
applied according to this ascertainment of its meaning."
Id. (quoting Bruno v. Milwaukee Cty., 2003
WI 28, ¶20, 260 Wis.2d 633, 660 N.W.2d 656). However, if
the statute is ambiguous-that is, reasonably susceptible to
more than one interpretation-we examine ...