Wisconsin Supreme Court Decides Special Assessments Case
The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently reversed the court of appeals decision in CED Properties LLC v. City of Oshkosh. The case involved special assessments levied by the City against a property owned by CED on the corner of Murdock Avenue and Jackson Street. The city levied assessments against CED for $19,241.73 relating to the Murdock Avenue portion of the project and $19,404.93 relating to the Jackson Street portion. CED filed a notice of appeal and complaint in the circuit court within the 90-day period outlined under § 66.0706(12)(a). CED’s complaint referred to the “special assessment,” but also referenced the parcel number assigned to the property, and the fact that the assessment resulted from the Jackson Street – Murdock Avenue improvement project. However, the complaint only referenced the value of the $19,241.73 assessment. After the 90-day appeal period ended, CED amended its complaint, modifying its references to “special assessment(s).” The City conceded judgment with respect to CED’s appeal of the Murdock Avenue assessment. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the City with respect to the Jackson Street assessment, finding the initial complaint only referenced the Murdock Avenue assessment and thus the appeal of the Jackson Street assessment was untimely. The court held the notice-pleading rules do not apply because there is a specific statute providing the 90-day limit for an appeal. The court did not directly rule on whether the relation-back rule applied, but impliedly found it did not. CED appealed.
The court of appeals affirmed. First, the court found that the City had levied two separate assessments. The court also determined, pursuant to § 801.01(2), Wis. Stats., the notice-pleading and relation-back rules of civil procedure apply to the appeal of a special assessments because it is a special proceeding. The court explained that the repeated references in the original complaint to a singular “special assessment” were insufficient to put the city on notice that CED was appealing both special assessments. The court also found the amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint because the Jackson Street assessment did not arise out of the Murdock Avenue assessment. Because the appeal of the Jackson Street assessment did not relate back to the original complaint, it was untimely, and the court of appeals held that summary judgment in favor of the City was appropriate.
The supreme court reversed. The court agreed with the court of appeals that there were two separate assessments on the property. It also agreed that the rules of civil procedure apply to appeals of special assessments. However, the court found that the initial complaint was sufficient to put the City on notice that CED was appealing both assessments. The court's reasoning focused on the fact that the initial complaint identified the one parcel number assigned to the one corner lot against which both assessments were levied, and also referenced both of the streets at issue in naming the Jackson Street – Murdock Avenue improvement project. Because the initial complaint was filed within the 90-day appeal deadline and provided sufficient notice of appeal of both assessments, CED timely appealed both assessments. The court then granted summary judgment in favor of CED on both assessments on the grounds that the City conceded it had not followed the proper procedure in levying the assessments. Because the matter was decided on other grounds, the supreme court did not reach the application of the relation back statute to special assessments in this case.