Village of Hobart v. Brown County

Decision Date15 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. 2003AP1907.,2003AP1907.
Citation281 Wis.2d 628,698 N.W.2d 83,2005 WI 78
PartiesVILLAGE OF HOBART, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BROWN COUNTY and Brown County Solid Waste Management Board, Defendants-Respondents-Petitioners.
CourtWisconsin Supreme Court

281 Wis.2d 628
2005 WI 78
698 N.W.2d 83

VILLAGE OF HOBART, Plaintiff-Appellant,
BROWN COUNTY and Brown County Solid Waste Management Board, Defendants-Respondents-Petitioners

No. 2003AP1907.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

Oral argument March 2, 2005.

Decided June 15, 2005.

For the defendants-respondents-petitioners there were briefs by William F. White, Mary C. Turke, Christine Cooney Mansour and Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Madison, and oral argument by Mary C. Turke.

For the plaintiff-appellant there was a brief by Richard C. Yde and Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, Madison, and oral argument by Richard C. Yde.

An amicus curiae brief was filed by Joseph P. Guidote, Jr., Appleton, on behalf of Outagamie and Winnebago Counties.

An amicus curiae brief was filed by Claire Silverman, Madison, on behalf of League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

281 Wis.2d 631

Petitioners Brown County and Brown County Solid Waste Management Board (County) appeal a decision of the court of appeals reversing the circuit court's order to grant summary judgment in its favor and dismiss the complaint filed by the Village of Hobart (Village) for a permanent injunction. The Village seeks to enjoin the County from operating a transfer station at the Brown County West Landfill. The County attempts to dismiss the Village's claim on the theory of equitable estoppel.

¶ 2. We conclude that summary judgment was improperly granted to the County. There are still genuine issues of material fact, as well as reasonable alternative inferences to be drawn from undisputed material

281 Wis.2d 632
facts, sufficient to warrant a trial. This case should be remanded to the circuit court to determine if building the transfer station violated a zoning ordinance, or any related ordinance, of the Village. If the court finds such a violation, and the Village continues in its attempt to enforce that ordinance, the circuit court must weigh the equitable considerations, including the County's equitable defenses, pursuant to this court's ruling in Forest County v. Goode, 219 Wis. 2d 654, 579 N.W.2d 715 (1998). We therefore affirm the court of appeals' decision reversing the summary judgment of the circuit court and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion


¶ 3. All residential, commercial, and industrial solid waste generated by the Oneida Tribe of Indians and the 13 incorporated municipalities in Brown County is received and disposed of by the County. The majority of the solid waste was disposed of at the Brown County East Landfill, until it reached capacity in May 2003. In anticipation of this, the County entered into the "Tri-County Solid Waste Agreement" with Outagamie and Winnebago Counties. Pursuant to this agreement, the County is allowed to dispose of its solid waste at the landfill of one of the participating counties.

¶ 4. In order to address concerns regarding the transportation of refuse to such a landfill, the County decided to construct a new solid waste transfer station to consolidate the waste before hauling it to a landfill in Outagamie or Winnebago County. The County proposed the construction and operation of this transfer station at the West Landfill, located in the Village. The County had purchased this property in May 1976, and operated

281 Wis.2d 633
it as an active landfill until July 1998. Before its official closure, the County managed the property as an "open area/wildlife refuge." After July 1998, a portion of the former landfill was opened as a pet exercise area

¶ 5. On February 18, 2002, the Village and the County met, at the Village's request, to discuss the construction of the transfer station at the West Landfill. During this meeting, the Village represented to the County that the proposed transfer station would comply with the West Landfill's current use and zoning. A second meeting between these parties was held one week later, on February 25, 2002, where the County suggested an agreement in which it would own the transfer station and pay the Village an annual franchise fee of $14,000.

¶ 6. The Village unanimously accepted the County's proposal at a public meeting of the Village Board on March 5, 2002.1 During the meeting, the Village Chairman stated to those present that the County did not require approval from the Village for the construction of the transfer station, because the West Landfill was properly zoned and the transfer station would be a permitted use in the zoning district.

¶ 7. On May 6, 2002, the Village Board, pursuant to its March 5 vote, presented the County with a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU), which set

281 Wis.2d 634
forth the Village's approval of the construction and operation of the transfer station, and informed the County of the Village's commitment to negotiate a 30-year contract with the County. The MOU provided, in relevant part: "It is the Town of Hobart's intention, per the above-approved motion, to approve the construction and operation of a landfill transfer station at the Brown County West Landfill site in the Town of Hobart."2 The Village and County signed the MOU on May 1, 2002, and May 6, 2002, respectively.

¶ 8. After receiving the MOU, the County requested a zoning map from the Village. The Village Clerk provided the County with a map that was dated May 17, 2002. The map showed the West Landfill area as "Public Property."3

¶ 9. Village officials informed its residents about the transfer station in a letter dated August 13, 2002. The letter, titled "Village Of Hobart Concerns Regarding The Solid Waste Transfer Station On The Brown County West Landfill Property," explained that the County could have constructed the transfer station without Village approval or involvement, because it was a "permitted use." The letter also informed residents that the Board would be discussing the transfer station further on August 20, 2002, and encouraged all interested parties to attend.

¶ 10. On August 21, 2002, the Village's Site Review Committee unanimously approved the County's application. In reliance on this approval, the County

281 Wis.2d 635
hired a general contractor to begin construction of the transfer station. The contract was awarded for $1,332,076 and required construction to commence on or before October 14, 2002.

¶ 11. On September 24, 2002, the Village Board, in response to a negative reaction from residents, voted to reject the permit and building of the waste transfer site. The Village Board informed the County of its decision, and its rescission of the MOU, in a letter dated October 1, 2002. The Village Clerk then declined to issue the County a sewer permit number to enter on its building permit application. The clerk stated that she had been instructed not to issue the County any permits regarding the transfer station.

¶ 12. The County sought advice from its corporation counsel on whether it could proceed with the construction of the transfer station without the permits.4 The corporation counsel informed the County that, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 13.48(13)(a) (2001-02),5 it did not need a building permit from the Village prior to

281 Wis.2d 636
construction. After the County received this letter, it commenced construction on October 9, 2002.6

¶ 13. The Village filed this lawsuit on October 24, 2002, seeking a permanent injunction to prohibit the County from constructing and operating the transfer station at the West Landfill. In its complaint, the Village alleged that construction of the transfer station was in violation of the Village's zoning ordinance, that the County had not obtained any building permits for construction, that the construction and operation of the transfer station was contrary to Village of Hobart Solid Waste and Nuisance Ordinance Section 10.1,7 and that the County failed to comply with Wis. Stat. § 289.22.

¶ 14. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. On May 6, 2003, the Brown County Circuit Court, Peter J. Naze, Judge, granted the County's motion for summary judgment, denied the Village's motion, and dismissed its complaint. The court concluded, first, that "the Village should be estopped from asserting that the County has violated the zoning

281 Wis.2d 637
ordinance." Second, the court held that the County, as an "arm of the State, is not required to obtain local approval since the statutes involved do not apply to Transfer Stations." The Village appealed.

¶ 15. The court of appeals reversed the summary judgment ordered by the circuit court and remanded the case for further proceedings. It held that "a circuit court can apply equitable estoppel to bar a municipality from enforcing a zoning ordinance." Vill. of Hobart v. Brown County, 2004 WI App 66, ¶ 2, 271 Wis. 2d 268, 678 N.W.2d 402. However, the court determined that the requirements for equitable estoppel had not been established in this case. Further, the court relied on the case Forest County v. Goode for the proposition that a court sitting in equity should weigh "traditional equitable considerations" before deciding whether or not to issue an injunction for a zoning ordinance violation. See Vill. of Hobart, 271 Wis. 2d 268, ¶ 16.

¶ 16. In determining that the County did not establish the necessary elements for equitable estoppel, the court of appeals held that the County did not show that it reasonably relied upon the Village's preconstruction actions when it decided to begin construction of the transfer station. Instead, the court determined that the County relied on the advice of its corporation counsel before commencing construction. Finally, the court held that the transfer station's construction and operation could not be justified by either Wis. Stat. § 13.48(13)(a) or on a vested rights theory.8

¶ 17. On March 25, 2004, the County filed a petition for review with this court. We accepted review

281 Wis.2d 638
and now affirm the decision of the court of appeals and remand the matter to the circuit court.



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