Lake Woe, Be Gone: Minnesotans Seek Private Property Protection

John Kramer
John Kramer · December 19, 1994

Washington, D.C.—Only in the bizarre world of government wetlands regulation could a mere mortal walk on water.

On Monday, December 19, 1994, the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of John and Josephine Bronczyk (pronounced bronze-ik.) The brother and sister from Anoka County, Minnesota, perhaps best-known as the home of radio storyteller Garrison Keillor, have lost the right to exclude trespassers from their long-held family-owned farm as a result of state wetlands law. Even though a lake on their property covers only nine acres of their 160-acre parcel, the state has classified three-quarters of their property as “public water,” available for public recreation.

“Under a state law the Institute for Justice is now challenging, Minnesota has turned large areas of privately owned solid land into ‘public waters,’ depriving the owners of the fundamental element of property rights: the right to exclude uninvited visitors,” said Dana Berliner, a staff attorney at the Institute.

Recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court indicating a recognition that land use regulations have gotten out of control give the Bronczyks hope that the right to preserve their private property will be vindicated. The Court stated that property rights will no longer be relegated to second-class status in comparison to other rights embodied in the Constitution. The Court also called the right to exclude other people from land “one of the most essential sticks in the bundle of rights that are commonly characterized as property.”

The Bronczyks first realized that the lake was public water, then some of the surrounding land, and finally so much surrounding land that their “public water” abutted the public road and eliminated their right to exclude. Clint Bolick, the Institute’s litigation director, characterized the state’s actions as a “gradual, creeping taking of private property.”

By suing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Institute forces the state to choose one of three options: (1) rein in its regulations by conceding that the Bronczyks’ land is not public water; (2) admit that the public may not use the “public waters” situated on the Bronczyks’ private land; or (3) choose to pay the Bronczyks compensation for taking their land. All of these outcomes will also stem overzealous regulation and bolster the rights of property owners, creating an important precedent for property rights.

The suit was filed against the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the Bronczyks’ behalf. The Institute is joined in the Bronczyks’ defense by local counsel Erick Kaardal of Trimble & Associates in Minnesota.

The Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals control their destinies as free and responsible members of society. Through strategic litigation, training, and outreach, the Institute secures greater protection for individual liberty, challenges the scope and ideology of the Regulatory Welfare State, and illustrates and extends the benefits of freedom to those whose full enjoyment of liberty is denied by government. The Institute was founded in September 1991 by Chip Mellor and Clint Bolick.



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