Archive for November, 2013

Supreme Court Clarifies Alcohol Licence Nonrenewal Burden of Proof

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

The recent Wisconsin Supreme Court case of Nowell v. Wausau solidifies the presumption of correctness given to municipal determinations to not renew a liquor license, and clarifies that the burden of proof to overcome the presumption is on the challenger.  In this case, a tavern in Wausau, IC Willy’s, had been cited for numerous violations, and had had many complaints filed against it.  Eventually, the City of Wausau, after a procedurally proper nonrenewal hearing, decided not to renew IC Willy’s liquor license.  The tavern appealed in circuit court, and the circuit court determined that the proper review was by certiorari, and the court upheld the decision by Wausau.

IC Willy’s then filed an appeal, and the appellate court reversed the circuit court, deciding that a de novo review was the appropriate standard.  A de novo review is, more or less, a new trial, while a certiorari review is a review of the underlying record looking for mistakes, but not allowing new arguments, and usually not allowing new evidence.  The Supreme Court reversed, deciding that a review of a municipal hearing regarding nonrenewal of an alcohol license was by certiorari.

This could be considered a “technicality” type of case by some, because it did not hinge on the merits but on the procedure.  While arguments over the  Latin words certiorari and de novo may not mean much to the general public, or to tavern owners or city officials, the presumption of correctness is critical.  If a city council or village or town board holds a hearing and makes a decision, it is presumed to be correct under a certiorari review, and an appeal is then limited to essentially an error correcting review.  The court does not hold a new trial, it just reviews the record.

This is good news for municipalities, in that their nonrenewal decisions are more likely to withstand a challenge, as long as the municipality follows all of the correct procedures and does not act arbitrarily or in bad faith.