Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 18, 2013, 7:30pm

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week ruled that a couple's property, after a transmission company's taking of a pair of easements to construct high-voltage lines, was left an "uneconomic remnant."

In its 50-page opinion Tuesday, the court majority sided with plaintiffs Scott and Lynnea Waller.

Defendant American Transmission Company LLC condemned a pair of easements on the Wallers' property to facilitate the construction and placement of high-voltage transmission lines.

In return, the Wallers claimed the easements diminished the value of their property so much that they were left with an "uneconomic remnant."

The Walworth County Circuit Court agreed with the couple.

In doing so, the court ordered ATC to acquire the entire property. The court also awarded the Wallers litigation costs and relocation expenses as "displaced persons" when they moved from the property after the taking.

ATC later appealed to the state's high court, which granted review.

The company questioned at what point a property owner must raise an uneconomic remnant claim; whether the Wallers indeed were left with an uneconomic remnant; whether they are entitled to litigation expenses; and whether they are "displaced persons," entitling them to relocation benefits.

The majority pointed to the state's right-to-take provision, which sets out the "proper" and "exclusive" way for a property owner to raise a claim that he or she will be left with an uneconomic remnant after a partial taking by the condemnor.

"A right-to-take action must be decided promptly by the court and shall not prevent the condemnor from filing a simultaneous valuation petition, proceeding thereon, and taking any property interest whose condemnation is not being directly contested by the owner," Justice David Prosser wrote for the majority.

"A right-to-take action on an uneconomic remnant claim is designed to protect an owner's right to fair compensation to avoid economic hardship, not to paralyze public interest takings under eminent domain."

The majority also found that the Wallers' property is an uneconomic remnant because of its "substantially impaired economic viability" -- i.e. its size, shape and condition.

"The taking of the two easements drastically reduced the portion of the Wallers' property not subject to a servitude," Prosser wrote. "The easements themselves not only restricted the Wallers' activity in the easement area but also substantially diminished the desirability, practicality and value of the Wallers' property for either a residential or industrial user."

The majority, in agreement with the circuit court, also ruled the couple is entitled to litigation costs and relocation expenses.

Justice Michael Gableman did not participate in the case.

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