Justia Wisconsin Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The case involves Erik A. Andrade, a former Milwaukee Police Officer, who was terminated for a series of posts and comments he made on Facebook. The posts attracted significant local and national attention following a civil rights lawsuit that brought them to light. The Milwaukee Police Department conducted an internal investigation into the posts, informed Andrade of the policies he potentially violated, and scheduled an interview. Following the internal investigation, the Department formally charged Andrade with violating two policies, both citing Andrade's posts as the basis for the violations. The Chief of Police, Alfonso Morales, determined his guilt and imposed the appropriate punishment. The Chief had internal affairs reach out to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, which explained that Andrade's posts would diminish his credibility in court so severely that they would no longer use him as a witness. Given the critical importance of testifying in police work, this fact convinced the Chief that termination was appropriate.The Chief's decision was reviewed by the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. After a full evidentiary trial, the Board issued a detailed decision determining that Andrade was guilty of the violations and the punishments he received were appropriate. Andrade then filed two actions in the circuit court. The first was a statutory appeal focused on whether there was just cause to sustain the charges. The second was a petition for a writ of certiorari alleging that the Board committed legal and jurisdictional errors. The circuit court upheld the Board's decision, Andrade appealed on his certiorari petition, and the court of appeals affirmed.Before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Andrade challenged his termination on procedural grounds. He contended that it fell short of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process guarantee. He argued that due process required the Department to explain why Chief Morales terminated him instead of imposing a lesser form of discipline. As such, the Department should have told him that Chief Morales made his decision based on the DA's determination that they would no longer use Andrade as a witness. Andrade insisted that the Department's failure to tell him this prior to termination means he was not given an explanation of the evidence supporting his termination in violation of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin disagreed with Andrade's claim and affirmed the decision of the court of appeals. View "Andrade v. City of Milwaukee Board of Fire and Police Commissioners" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Wisconsin was asked to review a decision by the state's Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC) and determine whether Catholic Charities Bureau, Inc. (CCB) and its four sub-entities were operated primarily for religious purposes, and thus exempt from making contributions to Wisconsin's unemployment insurance system. The Court decided that in determining whether an organization is "operated primarily for religious purposes" according to Wisconsin Statute § 108.02(15)(h)2, both the motivations and activities of the organization must be examined.Reviewing the facts of the case, the court determined that while CCB and its sub-entities professed to have a religious motivation, their activities were primarily charitable and secular. The services provided by the sub-entities, which included job training, placement, and coaching, along with services related to daily living, could be provided by organizations of either religious or secular motivations, and thus were not "primarily" religious in nature.The court also rejected CCB's argument that this interpretation of the statute violated the First Amendment, as it did not interfere with the church's internal governance nor examine religious dogma. Instead, it was a neutral and secular inquiry based on objective criteria. Therefore, the court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals. View "Catholic Charities Bureau, Inc. v. State of Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the circuit court affirming the decision of the State Claims Board awarding Appellant $25,000 in compensation after finding Appellant was innocent of a crime for which he was imprisoned, holding that Wis. Stat. 775.05(4) does not compel the Board to make a finding regarding adequacy.Appellant pled no contest to first-degree intentional homicide and spent approximately twenty-six years in prison. After his second guilty plea was vacated Appellant petitioned the State Claims Board for compensation, seeking more than $5.7 million. The Board awarded the maximum under Wis. Stat. 775.05(4). Appellant sought judicial review, arguing that the Board should have made a finding regarding the adequacy of the amount awarded. The circuit court affirmed, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals grafted onto the statute a process the legislature did not sanction. View "Sanders v. State of Wis. Claims Bd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that rezoning by amending a local government's zoning ordinance is legislative in character, and therefore, due process did not require an impartial decision-maker.Trustee Jan Miller (Trustee Miller), who served on the Village Board of Lyndon Station, cast the deciding vote in favor of an application filed by her daughter and son-in-law to amend the Village's zoning ordinance to rezone their residential property for commercial development. Thomas Miller (Miller), a local business owner, sought certiorari review of the Village's Zoning Board Appeals' decision upholding the Board's vote to amend the zoning ordinance. The circuit court reversed, concluding that Trustee Miller was not a fair and impartial decision-maker, and therefore, her participation in the vote violated due process. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Village Board's action was legislative in nature, and therefore, Miller was not entitled to an impartial decision-maker. View "Miller v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Village of Lyndon Station" on Justia Law

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In this lawsuit stemming from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's (DOT's) closure of a driveway connecting DEKK Property Development, LLC's property to State Trunk Highway (STH) 50, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the order of the circuit court granting DEKK motion for summary judgment, holding that summary judgment should be granted in DOT's favor.DEKK filed an action under Wis. Stat. 32.05(5) challenging DOT's right to remove DEKK's rights of access to STH 50. The circuit court granted summary judgment for DEKK, reasoning that DEKK had "some sort of right of access" to the driveway, entitling it to compensation from the closure. The court of appeals reversed and held for DOT on the merits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that DEKK was not permitted to recover damages for the driveway closure under section 32.05(5) because the access rights allegedly lost by DEKK were distinct from the taking described in DOT's jurisdictional offer. View "DEKK Property Development, LLC v. Wisconsin Dep't of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the circuit court reversing the judgment of the tax appeals commission concluding that the sales tax exemption in Wisconsin Act 185, which expanded an existing sales tax exemption to include the sale of aircraft parts or maintenance, did not apply to Lessees' payments for aircraft repairs and engine maintenance, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Citation Partners, LLC owned an aircraft that it leased to Lessees. Citation Partners charged per-flight-hour rates for aircraft repairs and maintenance as part of the total amount Lessees paid to lease the aircraft, which rates corresponded to the amount Citation Partners spent on repairs and maintenance. Citation Partners argued that this portion of the lease payment was tax exempt because it was a sale of aircraft parts or maintenance. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the court of appeals correctly found that the payments were not exempt from sales tax under the plain language of the statutes. View "Citation Partners, LLC v. Wis. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning two documents created by employees of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) that authorized municipal clerks and local election officials to establish ballot drop boxes the Supreme Court held that the documents were invalid because ballot drop boxes are illegal under Wisconsin statutes.Two Wisconsin voters brought this action challenging the validity of the documents, arguing, among other things, that, under Wisconsin statutes, drop boxes are illegal. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) an absentee ballot must be returned by mail or the voter must personally deliver it to the municipal clerk at the clerk's officer or a designated alternate site, not an inanimate object; and (2) therefore, the documents were invalid. View "Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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In this action contesting the merits of the Public Service Commission's (PSC) approval of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court, holding that, the court erred in its pretrial decisions.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) in pretrial decisions, the district court erred in interpreting Wis. Stat. 227.57(1) to allow for its expansion of the record created by the PSC and to permit discovery subpoenas of Michael Huebsch; (2) the circuit court erred when it denied Huebsch's motion to quash the discovery subpoenas he received; (3) the circuit court did not apply the correct legal standard when evaluating whether a due process violation had been stated; and (4) the circuit court erroneously denied Huebsch's request for a stay pending appeal. View "County of Dane v. Public Service Commission of Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing orders of the circuit court dismissing challenges brought by the Friends of the Black River Forest and Claudia Bricks (collectively, the Friends) to a land exchange between J. Kohler Company and the Department of Natural Resources, holding that Friends lacked standing to challenge the land transfer decision.Friends filed an action challenging the Board's decision approving an agreement between the Department and Kohler for the land exchange. The circuit court granted Kohler's motion to dismiss, concluding that Friends lacked standing because the alleged injuries did not flow directly from the land swap decision. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Friends alleged sufficient injuries to satisfy standing under Wis. Stat. 227.52 and 227.53. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that none of the statutes or regulations cited by Friends protected any legally protected, recognized, or regulated interests of Friends that would permit them to challenge the Board's decision as aggrieved persons. View "Friends of the Black River Forest v. Wis. Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court declining to decide whether a letter from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) constituted an unpromulgated rule, deferring instead to the Tax Appeals Commission to first decide that question, holding that the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion.Wisconsin, Manufactures and Commerce, Inc. (WMC) sent a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) articulating its view that machinery, patterns and tools that are not used in manufacturing are exempt from tax under Wis. Stat. 70.111(27)(b) even if that property is "located on manufacturing property." DOR sent a letter in return explaining that the exemption does not apply to manufacturers. WMC filed a declaratory judgment action claiming that DOR's letter was an invalid umpromulgated rule and that DOR's interpretation of the exemption violated the state and federal Constitutions. The circuit court dismissed all claims under the primary jurisdiction doctrine. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that deference to the Tax Appeals Commission was not warranted under the primary jurisdiction doctrine. View "Wis. Property Tax Consultants, Inc. v. Wis. Department of Revenue" on Justia Law