In split opinions, a majority of justices find the law unconstitutional
July 7, 2017 – Milwaukee, WI – In a victory for private property rights, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled today that a state law requiring homeowners to give up their privacy or lose their right to challenge their tax assessment in court violates the Constitution. Specifically, the law required owners to consent to a tax appraiser coming inside their home, and if they refused, they could not challenge their resulting assessment in front of the Board of Review, the Department of Revenue, or even in court.
This case was brought by Vincent Milewski and Morganne MacDonald, a married couple who own a home in the Town of Dover. Under Wisconsin Statutes, a tax assessor can demand entry into a private home. If the owner refuses, the assessor can value the home at any amount and the owner has no right to appeal – they must pay that tax, no matter how outrageous it is.
When the couple politely refused to allow the assessor (a stranger to them) to come inside their home, the assessor raised their assessment despite lowering the assessment for almost every home in their subdivision. What did the four properties that saw raises share in common? None of them allowed an interior inspection. The lower courts refused to allow them to challenge their assessment, and we brought this case all the way to the highest possible court.
Although the court’s justices splintered across several opinions, a majority of justices (Daniel Kelly, Rebecca Bradley, Annete Ziegler, and Michael Gableman) concluded that denying Vincent and Morganne the ability to challenge their tax violated their constitutional rights. A fifth (Patience Roggensack) concluded that the statute should be read to require only an exterior view of the property in order to avoid constitutional infirmity. Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley dissented.
“The founding fathers were very concerned with government agents searching private property for tax purposes,” explained Rick Esenberg, founder and general counsel at WILL. “They enacted the Fourth Amendment in part to prohibit those practices. And due process requires that if the government exacts a tax against you, they must also provide you a legal avenue to challenge that tax.”
The court’s opinion and more information about the case are available here.