Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Town of Rib Mountain v. Marathon County

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

May 16, 2019

Town of Rib Mountain, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Marathon County, Defendant-Respondent-Petitioner, Town of McMillan, Town of Mosinee, Town of Stettin, Town of Texas, Town of Wausau and Town of Weston, Defendants-Respondents.

          Submitted on Briefs: Oral Argument: February 14, 2 019

         REVIEW OF DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS Reported at 383 Wis.2d 493, 916 N.W.2d 164 PDC No:2018 WI.App. 42 - Published

          Circuit Court Marathon county, L.C. No. 2017CV207 Gregory B. Huber Judge

          For the defendant-respondent-petitioner, there were briefs filed by Scott M. Corbett, corporation counsel. There was an oral argument by Scott M. Corbett.

          For the plaintiff-appellant, there was a brief filed by Dean R. Dietrich, Esq., Alyson D. Dieckman, Esq., and Dietrich Vanderwaal S.C., Wausau. There was an oral argument by Dean R. Dietrich.

          An amicus curiae brief was filed on behalf of Wisconsin Counties Association by Andrew T. Phillips, Bennett J. Conard, and Von Briesen & Roper, . S.C., Milwaukee.

          REBECCA GRASSL BRADLEY, J.

         ¶1 In 1957, the Wisconsin legislature conferred authority on counties to "establish a rural naming or numbering system in towns for the purpose of aiding in fire protection, emergency services, and civil defense." Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4) (2017-18).[1] Marathon County decided to establish such a system in 2016 but the Town of Rib Mountain challenged its authority to do so, contending the statute confines counties to implementing naming and numbering systems only within "rural" areas of towns. Marathon County maintains that the only territorial restriction on its authority to establish a "rural naming or numbering system" is "in towns." The circuit court denied the Town declaratory relief, the Town appealed its decision, and the court of appeals reversed. We agree with Marathon County and hold, consistent with the text of the statute, that Marathon County may establish a rural naming or numbering system in towns, and the statute does not restrict this exercise of authority to only rural areas within them. "Rural" merely describes the naming or numbering system and the roads to which the system applies; it has no independent operative effect. We reverse the decision of the court of appeals.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In 2016, Marathon County passed Ordinance #0-7-16 to "establish[] and maintain[] a county addressing system for Marathon County." See Marathon Cty. Or. § 9.20(2) (2018). Under the ordinance, Marathon County would "assign each location [in Marathon County] a unique address which will aid emergency [personnel] in providing fire protection, emergency medical services, and law enforcement services; and meet other general locational needs such as delivery services of the public." See id. The ordinance applied "to each road, home, business, farm, structure, or other establishments in the unincorporated areas of the County." See Marathon Cty. Or. § 9.20(4) (2018).

         ¶3 The Town of Rib Mountain was one of 40 towns required by Marathon County to participate in the addressing system. The Town filed an action for declaratory relief against Marathon County.[2] The Town alleged that "Marathon County's authority to implement a naming and numbering system in towns is limited to rural naming and numbering systems, upon which only rural roads and intersections, homes, businesses, farms, and other establishments may be assigned a name or number, and only when the purpose of implementing a rural naming and number system in towns is to aid in fire protection, emergency services, and civil defense." The Town asserted that Marathon County's "[o]rdinance unlawfully exceeds the statutory authority granted to Marathon County by the Wisconsin Legislature and intrudes upon the Town's statutory authority to choose or change the names of urban or non-rural roads."

         ¶4 The circuit court denied the Town's claim for declaratory relief.[3] The circuit court disagreed with the Town's assertion that "rural" as used in Wis.Stat. § 59.54 restricts where Marathon County may establish an addressing system, and it held that the term "'rural' modifies 'naming or numbering system'-it has to do with the type of system, not with the location where it can be imposed." The circuit court ruled that "rural" was best read to mean "unincorporated." Because, the circuit court reasoned, the statute's "only limitations are that it be implemented 'in towns' and that it be implemented 'for the purpose of aiding in fire protection, emergency services, and civil defense, '" the circuit court denied the motion for declaratory relief.

         ¶5 The Town appealed, and the court of appeals reversed the circuit court. Town of Rib Mountain v. Marathon Cty., 2018 WI.App. 42, 383 Wis.2d 493, 916 N.W.2d 164. The court of appeals determined Marathon County could implement a naming or numbering system only in "unincorporated areas that also qualify as 'rural.'" Id., ¶1. The court of appeals rejected Marathon County's argument that the word "rural" describes the type of naming or numbering system and does not impose a territorial limitation on Marathon County's authority. Id., ¶¶12-13. The court of appeals concluded that the "use of the word 'rural' . . . unambiguously demonstrates that [the legislature] intended to restrict a county's naming and numbering authority to 'rural' areas." Id. The court of appeals rejected the circuit court's definition of "rural" to mean "'unincorporated' . . . because it renders the word 'rural' in Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4) and (4m) surplusage." Town of Rib Mountain, 383 Wis.2d 493, ¶¶15-16.

         ¶6 Having concluded that the statute restricts Marathon County's authority to implement a naming and numbering system to rural areas in towns, the court of appeals consulted dictionaries to give meaning to "rural." Id., ¶18. Combining several definitions, the court of appeals adopted the following definition of "rural" for Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4) and (4m):

[T]hese definitions establish that: (1) the term "rural" is used to describe things that are characteristic of, or related to, the "country"; and (2) the "country" encompasses places that are distinct from "urban" areas-i.e., areas with comparatively higher concentrations of people or buildings. Based on these definitions, we conclude the term "rural" in Wis.Stat. § [59.54] (4) and (4m) denotes areas that are not urban. In other words, the term "rural" refers to areas that are comparatively less densely populated by people or buildings, or areas that are characteristic of, or related to, the country.

Town of Rib Mountain, 383 Wis.2d 493, ¶20 (footnote omitted).

         ¶7 Employing this definition of "rural," the court of appeals held that "[t]he County thus exceeded its authority by mandating the implementation of a uniform addressing system in all unincorporated areas of the County, without regard to whether those areas also qualified as 'rural.'" Id., ¶28. However, despite adopting a definition of "rural" and declaring Marathon County's ordinance too broad, the court of appeals remanded the case, placing the burden on Marathon County to "demonstrate which portions of Rib Mountain, if any, qualify as 'rural,' according to the plain meaning of the term as set forth above." Id., ¶29. The court of appeals instructed:

As a general matter, we do not require the County to use any particular criteria in order to determine which unincorporated land within its territory qualifies as "rural," for purposes of Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4) and (4m), and which does not. The legislature chose not to include any specific criteria in those subsections for distinguishing between rural and non-rural areas. Its failure to do so makes sense, because the criteria used to make that distinction will likely vary on a county-by-county basis, as land that might reasonably be categorized as rural in the context of a more populous county could conceivably be categorized as urban in the context of a less populous county.

Town of Rib Mountain, 383 Wis.2d 493, ¶30. The court of appeals did "not endeavor to establish specific factors for determining what property qualifies as rural" and tasked Marathon County with "establish[ing] clear, reasonable criteria for identifying 'rural' areas within its territory." Id., ΒΆ31. A reviewing court in the future was to "review any challenges to a county's criteria or their implementation by considering both the unique factual circumstances presented and the purposes of the relevant ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.