This is a review of an unpublished decision of the court of appeals, which affirmed an order of the circuit court for Dane County, Moria Krueger,
The facts in this case are not in dispute. On June 16, 1992, the City of Madison annexed 187.5 acres of land from the Town of Blooming Grove. The circuit court noted that the annexation had the following effect: "The portion of Blooming Grove located south of the annexed area is surrounded on the north and west by the City of Madison, bordered by the Town of Cottage Grove to the east, the Village of McFarland to the southwest and the Town of Dunn to the south." The annexation is known as the Yahara Hills annexation because of its location near Yahara Hills Golf Course.
On June 24, 1992, two private businesses, the Town of Blooming Grove and the Blooming Grove sanitary district that serves the annexed area (collectively,
On September 15, 1992, Blooming Grove filed a summary judgment motion requesting that the circuit court declare Madison's annexation ordinance invalid. The primary thrust of the motion was that the annexation ordinance violated sec. 66.021(15), STATS., as that statute was interpreted by the court of appeals in Town of Sheboygan v. City of Sheboygan, 168 Wis.2d 268, 483 N.W.2d 306 (Ct. App. 1992). The circuit court granted Blooming Grove's motion, concluding that the annexation "created a functional town island in violation of § 66.021(15), STATS., and contrary to the Court of Appeals holding in Town of Sheboygan v. City of Sheboygan, 168 Wis.2d 268 (Ct. App. 1992)." Madison appealed and the court of appeals affirmed. In its decision, the court stated that it was bound by Town of Sheboygan even though it believed the case to have been wrongly decided.
Section 66.021(15), STATS., provides in full:
As noted above, it is the last sentence of sec. 66.021(15) that is at issue in the present case.
Resolution of this case involves a question of statutory interpretation. Statutory interpretation and an application of the statute in question to a given set of facts are questions of law that this court reviews de novo. Braatz v. LIRC, 174 Wis.2d 286, 293, 496 N.W.2d 597, 600 (1993); State of Wisconsin ex rel. Town of Delavan v. Circuit Court for Walworth County, 167 Wis.2d 719, 723, 482 N.W.2d 899, 900-01 (1992). This court recently set out the statutory interpretation process:
Doe v. American Nat. Red Cross, 176 Wis.2d 610, 616, 500 N.W.2d 264, 266 (1993) (citation omitted). Further, the general rule in interpreting Wisconsin laws is that: "All words and phrases shall be construed according to common and approved usage; but technical words and phrases and others that have a peculiar meaning in the law shall be construed according to such meaning." See sec. 990.01(1), STATS.
In the present case, Madison argues that sec. 66.021(15), STATS., is plain and unambiguous. Specifically, Madison asserts that the last sentence in sec. 66.021(15) clearly and unequivocally mandates that a city or village may not annex land so that a town area is completely surrounded by the annexing city or village. Blooming Grove, on the other hand, relying extensively on Town of Sheboygan, claims that the last sentence of sec. 66.021(15) is ambiguous and, therefore, resort to
A statute, or portion thereof, will be found to be ambiguous when it is capable of being understood by reasonably well-informed persons in either of two or more senses. Cynthia E. v. La Crosse County Human Services Department, 172 Wis.2d 218, 225, 493 N.W.2d 56, 59 (1992). In considering the question of ambiguity, however, it is obvious that parties may disagree as to the meaning of a given statute. "This alone cannot be controlling. The court should look to the language of the statute itself to determine if `well-informed persons should have become confused." National Amusement Co. v. Department of Revenue, 41 Wis.2d 261, 267, 163 N.W.2d 625, 628 (1969) (emphasis in original). Only when the statutory language is found to be ambiguous will this court examine the scope, history, context, subject matter and object of the statute in discerning the intent of the legislature. Cynthia E., 172 Wis. 2d at 225, 493 N.W.2d at 59.
Our review of the statutory provision at issue leads us to conclude that the statute's words clearly and unambiguously declare the legislature's intent—namely, that a city or a village may not annex land such that a town area is completely surrounded by
Our conclusion on this issue is at odds with the court of appeals' decision in Town of Sheboygan. There, the court of appeals held that the relevant portion of sec. 66.021(15), STATS., was ambiguous "because of the operation of the statute to specific facts." Town of Sheboygan, 168 Wis. 2d at 274, 483 N.W.2d at 308. The court rejected "a literal reading" of the statute in favor of a broader interpretation that it considered reasonable. Specifically, the court disallowed an annexation of a town area where one border was a natural barrier—a large body of water, Lake Michigan. The court explained that "[t]he city would have us ignore lakes, rivers, county lines, state lines, etc., and confine the town island prohibition to the limited situation of an annexing city completely enveloping a portion of the
Had the legislature desired the effect that the court of appeals intimates in Town of Sheboygan, it certainly could have drafted the statute as such. It did not, however, and it is not the function of this court to usurp the role of the legislature.
Applying the statute to the facts at hand reveals that Madison did not completely surround the town area in question when it exercised its annexing power in the Yahara Hills annexation. On the contrary, the undisputed facts reveal that Madison only bounds the annexed town area on two sides. Two different towns and a village also bound the town area. This is simply not a situation where the annexed town area is "completely surrounded by the [annexing] city or village." As such, the court of appeals' decision that sec. 66.021(15), STATS., was violated by the Yahara Hills annexation must be reversed.