Mount Pleasant neighbors sue over eminent domain

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Foxconn agreement Wisconn Valley
Terry Gou, founder and CEO of Foxconn Technology Group, explains how he sees Wisconn Valley taking shape. (photo by Matt Binetti) Japan

Seven Mount Pleasant property owners have sued the village in federal court over how it is handling property acquisitions for Foxconn Technology Group.

The landowners who filed the lawsuit own property located within the footprint where Foxconn wants to build an LCD manufacturing facility. Expected to generate 10,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent positions, the $10 billion project is the largest economic investment in the state and one of the largest in U.S. history.

The property owners’ attorney Erik Olsen, of Eminent Domain Services LLC, filed the complaint in the federal court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The lawsuit, filed Monday, names the village and Village President David DeGroot as defendants.

Read the lawsuit filed in federal court.

Further, the complaint alleges that the Village of Mount Pleasant is: The case shows “violations of the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection, private property, and due process,” the complaint states.

  • acquiring the property owners’ land for “the benefit of a private corporation,”
  • that the state has passed legislation allowing the project to skirt environmental impact studies and wetland permitting requirements,
  • that village staff treated landowners differently by offering different purchase prices –  some up to 10 times the value of their property – and
  • it is acquiring property for a non-public purpose.

Mount Pleasant responds

The Village denies the allegations. DeGroot said he has seen the complaint, but the Village has not been served with it yet. Because of that, he felt it would be inappropriate to comment on it. However, the Village’s attorney Alan Marcuvitz, did issue the following statement:

“We don’t believe there is any merit to this lawsuit, and we will provide an appropriate response through the legal system. The Village will continue to move forward with public infrastructure work and property acquisitions for the Foxconn project.”

One of the main issues in the Foxconn project revolves around the Village’s use of the eminent domain law and the Blight Elimination and Clearance Act, two ways municipalities can acquire property.

The eminent domain law applies to land being acquired for the purpose of public works projects. The complaint argues that the road and utility projects being done are for the Foxconn project and are “de facto private purpose.”

Neighbors say project benefits Foxconn, not public

Under the state’s Blight Elimination and Clearance Act, properties can be purchased for redevelopment or urban renewal projects for fair market value. Although the law defines blight as run-down or unsafe property, there is some wiggle room for properties to be condemned for redevelopment and urban renewal projects for private corporations, said Ed Fallone, an associate professor with the Marquette University Law School.

“The U.S. Supreme Court decided that the word ‘blight’ is a term of art and that legislatures can define the word any way they want without turning the taking into a violation of the U.S. Constitution. That was in the 2005 case of Kelo v. The City of New London. So as a matter of the U.S. Constitution, it appears that the (Mount Pleasant) government can do this,” Fallone said.

But Wisconsin State statutes — which were amended following the Kelo decision — also prohibit single-family homes that are occupied and not in a high-crime rate area from being designated as blighted. None of the properties are in high-crime areas or have been designated as blighted.

“Wisconsin modified its law to provide that unblighted property cannot be taken by eminent domain (Wis. Stat. section 32.03(6)(a)&(b)), and an argument can be made that it defeats the purpose of this amendment if (Mount Pleasant) defines ‘blight’ so broadly,” Fallone said.

The complaint underscores this position and points to how the property is not blighted.

“All of the land in the area of the Acquisition is being acquired for the direct benefit and convenience of private enterprise, namely, Foxconn,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit asks the court to find the Village in violation of the homeowner’s constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and private property. To remedy the conflict, the homeowners are seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction to protect them.