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Riparian Right – Land Use

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Brian Kreuziger v. Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

Case No.: 22-2489

Officials: Sykes, Chief Judge, and Wood and Pryor, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Riparian Right – Land Use

In the late 1930s, Milwaukee County built a dam on the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park, an urban green space that runs along the east bank of the river where the City of Milwaukee borders suburban Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. In 2017 the County transferred the dam to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for the purpose of removing it. Demolition was completed the following year.

With the dam removed, the water level immediately upstream fell by about four feet from its previous high-water mark. Brian Kreuziger owns a home along this stretch of the river, and the drop in the water level exposed a ten-foot swath of swampy land on his waterfront that used to be submerged. He sued the District and Milwaukee County, alleging that their removal of the dam amounted to a taking of his riparian right to the prior surface water level without just compensation. See U.S. C ONST. amend. V; WIS. C ONST. art. I, § 13. Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the district judge entered judgment for the defendants, holding that Kreuziger had no property right to have the river remain at the previous level.

The Seventh Circuit agreed ruling that the riparian rights of waterfront property owners are subordinate to the government’s authority to regulate navigable waterways under the public-trust doctrine. Kreuziger had no property right to have the river remain at the previous level.


Decided 02/13/23

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