Wisconsin Supreme Court Digest

State v. Dinkins – Can a homeless sex offender be criminally charged for failing to provide his address for the sex offender registry when being released from prison? The supreme court says no. The court noted this was a rare occasion, as typically a sex offender will go into extended supervision (like probation) after his prison stay, and the DOC will be in charge of finding him a place to live and providing that information for the registry. But over a strongly-worded dissent by Justices Ziegler and Gableman, the court determined that in these rare circumstances, the offender cannot be criminally convicted, and the DOC can arrange alternate methods of keeping track of him.

State v. Ryan – The DNR tried to fine a Milwaukee business owner, Ryan, for sinking a barge in the Menomonee River. Ryan wanted to argue that the barge was not his and, therefore, he should not be fined. But the DNR claimed that Ryan couldn’t make that argument because he had previously claimed it was his barge in his dealings with the DNR. The courts disagreed, concluding both that Ryan’s previous statements did not unambiguously assert ownership, and moreover that he had not sought to convince a court that he owned the barge, so he could not now be prevented from claiming he did not own the barge.

Crown Castle USA v. Orion Construction Group – In the first 4-3 decision of the term, the supreme court held that a separate legal entity cannot be compelled to testify in the supplemental hearing of a commonly-owned judgment debtor. Crown Castle won a $480,000 judgment against Orion Construction. When Crown Castle tried to collect the judgment, it learned that Orion Construction had no assets. Crown Castle believed that Douglas Larson, Orion Construction’s owner, who also owned Orion Logistics, LLC, may have hidden Construction’s assets by transferring them to Logistics. So Crown Castle tried to have the circuit court compel Larson to testify about Logistics’ assets.

The supreme court held that the judgment creditor (Crown Castle) had no power to compel Larson to do so, because the statutes only permit the creditor to question the business that actually incurred the debt (Construction), and not a wholly-separate company (Logistics). Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, and Crooks dissented, believing such a result would allow debtors to fraudulently hide assets by transferring them to another company.

Heritage Farms v. Markel Insurance Company – After a burn pile started by Jeffrey Knaack got out of control in 2003, over 520 acres of land were burned, causing extensive damage to Heritage Farms’ property. Wisconsin law allows property owners to recover double damages for property destroyed by forest fires caused by “willfulness, malice or negligence.” At issue in this case was whether the language in that double damage statute requires or merely permits a court to award double damages. The court, over a single dissent by Justice Bradley, determined that double damages are required.

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