March 6, 2014 – Under Wisconsin’s notice pleading rules, the City of Oshkosh had reasonable and sufficient notice that a business owner intended to contest two special assessments against its property, despite an omission in the original complaint.
That’s what a unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded in CED Properties LLC v. City of Oshkosh, 2014 WI 10 (March 6, 2014), reversing lower court rulings that said CED missed the deadline for filing an appeal to one of two special assessments.
“Under principles of notice pleading, we are satisfied that CED’s original complaint was sufficient to challenge the entire amount of the special assessments levied against its property,” wrote Justice Patrick Crooks.
What Happened Here?
CED owns property on the northeast corner of an intersection in Oshkosh. The property abuts two main streets. The city levied two special assessments against CED, about $20,000 each, to help fund an intersection improvement project.
The city issued the assessments separately to correspond with the two different streets abutting CED’s property that would be repaired and improved by the project. It is typical practice to issue separate assessments in this way, Oshkosh maintained in the lawsuit.
In 2010, CED filed a complaint in circuit court and a notice of appeal. CED said the city did not follow proper procedure in issuing the special assessments.
CED’s complaint referenced the parcel number assessed. It also noted that the assessment was to help pay intersection improvement projects on both streets.
However, the complaint did not reference both assessment amounts. It only noted one assessment amount totaling $19,241.CED filed an amended complaint to include the other assessment amount, but it was filed after the 90-day statutory deadline.
The city moved for partial summary judgment. It said CED could not maintain its challenge to the second assessment because the appeal was untimely.
CED said the original complaint was sufficient to cover both assessments, and in any event, the amended complaint “related back” to the original complaint.
Both the circuit and appeals courts agreed that CED could not maintain its challenge to the second assessment because the notice of appeal was untimely. The appeals court also ruled that CED’s amended complaint did not “relate back” to the original complaint.
A unanimous supreme court reversed, concluding that CED’s original complaint was sufficient to cover both assessments. Thus, it did not reach the “relation back” issue.
The court agreed that two assessments were issued. However, the court concluded that CED’s original complaint sufficiently notified the city that CED intended to challenge both assessments, even though the complaint only reference one assessment amount.
The complaint identified the parcel that was being assessed, and noted that the improvement project affected both streets abutting the CED property, the court noted. This was enough, under notice pleadings standards, to meet the requirements.
The court noted that the general rules of pleading under Wis. Stat. section 802.02 apply to special assessment appeals, which are “special proceedings,” and CED’s original complaint “was sufficient to challenge the entire amount of the special assessments.”
“To conclude otherwise would hold CED to the type of technical pleading requirements that we have held no longer apply under our rules of civil procedure,” Crooks wrote, noting that Wisconsin’s liberal civil procedural rules promote resolution on the merits.