Officials: Menards withdraws 'Dark Store' suit against West Bend
Store alleged city overcharged on tax bill

By McLean Bennett

May 28, 2019

A bicyclist enters the parking lot of Menards in West Bend.
Daily News file photo

WEST BEND — Several government officials here have said a big-box retailer suing West Bend to knock down several years’ worth of property taxes is withdrawing its lawsuit against the city.

Menards filed its first “Dark Store Theory” suit against West Bend in 2016, when the Eau Claire-based hardware and home improvement chain said the city had overcharged on its property tax bill.

The company followed up with two more related suits in 2017 and 2018 — all three cases were eventually rolled into one — and a trial was slated to start in a few weeks.

“The City of West Bend is pleased to announce that the Menards three-year property tax assessment challenge has ended,” the city said in a news release distributed to media late Friday. “Menards has withdrawn their cases that had been scheduled to go to the circuit court in June 2019.”

Online court records detailing the latest twist in the years-long saga didn’t appear immediately available this weekend. News of the apparent suit’s withdrawal came late Friday as local circuit courts were closing for the long holiday weekend. As of Memorial Day, online information about the case still showed a trial scheduled to start on June 10.

Jason Stahmann, an assistant manager at West Bend’s Menards outlet, declined comment when contacted by a reporter on Monday and directed inquiries to the retailer’s corporate offices.

West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow and City Administrator Jay Shambeau confirmed Monday the city has been told that Menards is withdrawing its lawsuit.

“West Bend has been a leader in combating the dark store theory,” the mayor said in a statement Friday. “I am proud of our city council and staff for their resistance to buckle to the big box pressure to accept a settlement offer. Any  type of settlement would have caused a tax shift to other city property taxpayers. This was unacceptable in my opinion.”

“Our City Assessors take great pride in their work and establish fair and equitable assessed values,” Shambeau said in the same news release.

The city’s statement further noted that “The cancellation of this lawsuit affirms the fact that the City of West Bend assessments were proper and fair all along.”

Menards’ “Dark Store” litigation wasn’t a new concept in Wisconsin. Multiple companies in recent years have sought help from the state’s courts in reducing their local property tax bills. Key to those suits is the claim by some companies that their property assessments should be no different than for nearby shuttered — or “dark” — retail stores.

Government officials across Wisconsin have tried pushing back against the wave of lawsuits, arguing that reducing business’ property bills effectively shifts more of the local tax burden to homeowners.

In his statement, Sadownikow said he hoped state lawmakers in Madison would have the “intestinal fortitude” to enact new state rules aimed at stopping “these frivolous and costly lawsuits.”

Menards isn’t the only company that had challenged its West Bend tax bill. Walmart is also suing the city on similar grounds. As of Monday, it appeared that case was still moving forward, though records indicate the next court scheduling date isn’t expected until early next year.