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    Supreme Court Digest

    This column summarizes all decisions of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (except those involving lawyer or judicial discipline, which are digested elsewhere in the magazine). Profs. Daniel D. Blinka and Thomas J. Hammer invite comments and questions about the digests. They can be reached at Marquette University Law School, 1215 W. Michigan Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53233, (414) 288-7090.

    Prof. Daniel D. Blinka & Prof. Thomas J. Hammer

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    Insurance

    Exclusion – Drive-Other-Car – Stacking Window

    Belding v. Demoulin, 2014 WI 8 (filed 7 Feb. 2014)

    HOLDING: Under statutes controlling at the time of an accident, an insurer could not use a “drive-other-car” exclusion to block the stacking of uninsured motorist (UM) coverage for two separately insured vehicles.

    SUMMARY: Belding was injured in a collision after an uninsured driver ran a red light. The Beldings had two separate State Farm policies, both of which carried UM coverage. State Farm paid the UM limits for the car Belding drove at the time of the collision but balked at providing additional UM coverage from the second policy. The circuit court agreed that State Farm’s drive-other-car exclusion in the second policy foreclosed coverage.

    Daniel D. Blinkaedu daniel.blinka marquette Prof. Daniel D. Blinka, U.W. 1978, is a professor of law at Marquette University Law School, Milwaukee.

    Thomas J. Hammeredu thomas.hammer marquette Prof. Thomas J. Hammer, Marquette 1975, is a law professor and Director of Clinical Education at Marquette University Law School, Milwaukee.

    In a published decision, the court of appeals reversed; it used Wis. Stat. section 632.32(5)(e) to “harmonize” the drive-other-car exclusion with the prohibition of antistacking clauses in the second policy (see ¶ 11). See Belding v. Demoulin, 2013 WI App 26.

    The supreme court affirmed the court of appeals in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Bradley. “The dispute is over whether an automobile insurance policy could prohibit stacking the coverage limits for uninsured motorist coverage during the time period when both Wis. Stat. § 632.32(5)(j) (permitting drive-other-car exclusions) and Wis. Stat.
    § 632.32(6)(d) (prohibiting anti-stacking clauses) were in effect” (¶ 14).

    The opinion features a brief history of the tangled legislation on exclusions and antistacking provisions because “[t]his case arose during the time period when both Wis. Stat. § 632.32(5)(j) (permitting drive-other-car exclusions) and Wis. Stat. § 632.32(6)(d) (prohibiting anti-stacking clauses) were in place” (¶ 23).

    To resolve the conflict between statutory language, the court looked to the test laid out in Wis. Stat. section 632.32(5)(e). “First, we look to see if the exclusion is prohibited under subsection (6). If a prohibition applies, the exclusion is barred. Second, if no prohibition in subsection (6) applies, then we look to see if any other law bars the exclusion. If neither prevents the exclusion, it is permissible” (¶ 42).

    The court’s inquiry here stopped at the first step because section 632.32(6)(d) provides that no policy may prohibit the stacking of the uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage on up to three vehicles. Thus, State Farm could not use its drive-other-car exclusion to block the Beldings from stacking their UM coverage on their other vehicle (see ¶ 43).

    Taxation

    Real Estate Taxes – Challenge to Classification of Property

    Sausen v. Town of Black Creek Bd. of Review, 2014 WI 9 (filed 19 Feb. 2014)

    HOLDING: A taxpayer who objects to a property assessment on the basis of the classification to which the assessor has assigned the property has the burden of proving that the classification is erroneous.

    SUMMARY: The town assessor valued the plaintiff’s property at $27,500, classified the property as “productive forest land,” and assessed the property at $27,500. The plaintiff did not challenge the assessor’s valuation. Rather, he challenged the assessment on the ground that the assessor’s classification was erroneous.

    The assessor’s classification of the property directly affected the assessment in the present case: property classified as productive forest land under Wis. Stat. section 70.32(2)(a) and (c)2. is assessed at full value; property classified as “undeveloped land” is assessed at 50 percent of its full value. The taxpayer claimed that the town board of review should change the classification of the property to “undeveloped land” under Wis. Stat. section 70.32(2)(c)4. and that the property, properly classified as undeveloped land, should be assessed at $13,750, that is, at 50 percent of the full value of $27,500.

    The board of review declined to change the classification of the plaintiff’s property. On certiorari review, the circuit court affirmed the board’s assessment. The court of appeals summarily affirmed the circuit court. In a majority decision authored by Justice Bradley, the supreme court affirmed the court of appeals.

    The crucial issue in this case involved the allocation of burdens of proof when a taxpayer challenges the classification of property for tax purposes before the local board of review. The statutes do not directly address the issue. However, after considering the general rule of law regarding burdens of proof as well as various statutory and case law resources, the supreme court concluded that “a taxpayer who objects to an assessment on the basis of the classification of the property has the burden of proving that the classification is erroneous” (¶ 37). On the facts of this case, the court concluded that the taxpayer failed to meet this burden, and that the board of review’s determination to maintain the assessment was supported by a reasonable view of the evidence (see ¶ 10).

    Justice Prosser and Justice Roggensack filed separate concurring opinions.




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