RACINE — Rodney and Cathy Jensen might finally get their day in court in their fight against Mount Pleasant to either keep their property or be what they consider appropriately compensated for their land in the Foxconn area.
Attorneys from both sides, as well as the Jensen’s and Claude Lois, Mount Pleasant's Foxconn project director, appeared in Racine County Circuit Court Wednesday in front of Judge Michael Piontek.
After roughly 30 minutes of discussions and debate as to whether the case should or can be moved completely into federal court, Piontek said he did not want to “delay these decisions anymore,” and set a two-day trial date starting on Sept. 18.
The trial was originally supposed to start Wednesday and continue Thursday.
The Jensens own a 3-acre property along Southeast Frontage Road near Durand Avenue (Highway 11).
The Village of Mount Pleasant has acquired hundreds of acres of land to be transferred over to Foxconn Technology Group for its massive manufacturing campus.
The Jensens are one of a few Foxconn-affected property owners who have not sold their land to the village. They filed a lawsuit against the village claiming, among other things, the offer from the village did not equal the value of what some other property owners have received.
The village has been offering landowners 140% of their property value along with compensation for relocation costs and appraisals of the property.
Andrew Weiniger, an attorney with Madison-based Eminent Domain Services who is representing the Jensens, claims that other property owners received five times the value of their property.
The Jensens were part of a lawsuit with several other property owners in the Foxconn area who sued the village in federal court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. However, in May 2018 the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled.
Eventually, the other parties to the lawsuit settled with the village by agreeing to the formula of 140% of their property values, and the Jensens became the sole party on the lawsuit.
The case was then appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago for mediation.
Knicks v. Township of Scott
However, Weiniger said a recent case in the Supreme Court of the United States, Knicks v. Township of Scott, made a decision which "overturned” the ruling on the Jensens' case in federal court.
“As a result of that, the 7th Circuit (Court) reversed and remanded the Jensens' lawsuit in federal court,” Weiniger said.
He said the Jensens want to continue to fight in federal court.
“Our plan all along was to preserve the federal claims,” Weininger said. “(We are) basically here today to not address those at all and reserve those for federal court where they’re currently pending.”
But attorney Smitha Chintamaneni, who is representing the village, challenged Weininger’s interpretation of the ruling on the Knicks v. Township of Scott case.
Chintamaneni read a portion of the Supreme Court decision, which states “the property owner has an actionable Fifth Amendment takings claim when the government takes a property without paying for it.”
Chintamaneni said the ruling should not apply in this case.
“We don’t believe that the Knicks case punts all state actions,” Chintamaneni said. “All it says is that a landowner can go to federal court the moment the government takes his property and does not pay for it. That is not what has happened here.”
Piontek was not aware of the Supreme Court decision and said he understands why the Jensens would want the claims to be moved over to federal court.
“No question that it would be terrific if everyone had to go through one trial,” Piontek said.
However, the decision by the Supreme Court, Piontek said, gives him “great pause,” and he wants time to review the case and give all parties involved time to prepare for the trial.
“It’s a lot on the line for Mount Pleasant; there’s a lot on the line for the Jensens, probably,” Piontek said. “The main priority is to make sure it’s fair and each side gets an opportunity (in court).”