Wisconsin Supreme Court Holds that Milwaukee Cannot Enforce City Employee Residency Requirements

Published by Holly J. Wilson, Jeffrey A. Mandell, Susan Allen on

In Milwaukee Police Association v. City of Milwaukee, 2016 WI 47, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that Wis. Stat. § 66.0502 precludes the City from enforcing its residency requirement.

For many years, the City of Milwaukee has required its city employees to reside within city limits as a condition of employment. On June 20, 2013, the legislature created Wis. Stat. § 66.0502, which prohibits local governments from enacting and enforcing residency requirements of any kind, except those that require police officers, firefighters, or other emergency personnel to reside within fifteen miles of the local government.

On the day the statute took effect, the City of Milwaukee Common Council adopted and the Mayor signed a resolution concluding that the new statute violated the Wisconsin Constitution’s home-rule amendment, which allows cities and villages to “determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or village.” Art. XI, § 3(1). The resolution further directed all City officials to continue enforcing Milwaukee’s local residency rule.

The Milwaukee Police Association filed suit, seeking a declaratory judgment that the City’s residency ordinance and resolution were unenforceable to the extent they conflicted with § 66.0502. The Police Association also sought judgment and damages under federal civil rights law (42 U.S.C. § 1983), alleging that the City’s continuing enforcement of its residency ordinance constituted a deprivation of individual officers’ liberty interests. Sometime later, the Fire Fighters Association intervened in the action. All parties filed for summary judgment. The circuit court declared the City Ordinance and Common Council Resolution void and unenforceable to the extent they violate § 66.0502. The trial court further found that § 66.0502 creates a protectable liberty interest, but that there was no evidence of actionable deprivation to justify an award of damages. The City appealed, and the Police Association cross-appealed.

The court of appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part. With respect to the § 1983 claim, the court of appeals affirmed the circuit court’s decision not to award damages. With respect to the home-rule amendment, the court of appeals concluded, “because Wis. Stat. § 66.0502 does not involve a matter of statewide concern and does not affect all local government units uniformly, it does not trump the Milwaukee ordinance.” The court of appeals expressed deep concern over the disproportionate “impact” it believed Wis. Stat. § 66.0502 could have on the City – even to the extent of concerns expressed by the court that Milwaukee could become the next Detroit. The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted the Police Association’s petition for review.

In a decision announced last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. First, the Court held that Wis. Stat. § 66.0502 precludes the City from enforcing its residency requirement. The Court clarified that a legislative enactment can trump a city charter ordinance either (1) when the enactment addresses a matter of statewide concern, or (2) when the enactment with uniformity affects every city or village. Without much analysis or review of the facts of this case, the Court concludes that because Wis. Stat. § 66.0502 uniformly affects every city or village on its face, it trumps § 5-02 of the City’s charter on residency requirements.

Second, in affirming the court of appeals, the Court held that the Police Association is not entitled to relief or damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court noted that the § 1983 claim failed because the Police Association did not meet the requirements necessary to prevail. Particularly, the Police Association failed to show a deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.  Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson concurred with majority’s holding on the § 1983 claim, but dissented from the majority’s holding regarding the City’s home rule power.

Interpreted broadly, this decision grants the state legislature the right to govern municipal matters as long as the legislature enacts a statute that uniformly applies to municipalities even if that statute is specifically targeted at matters of local concern. In the dissent, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley theorizes that “under the majority opinion, the only legislation that would not uniformly affect all municipalities is one that would overtly single out a particular city or village.” This decision serves as a blow to the home-rule power that was originally “intended to free municipalities from legislative interference” and to municipalities. 

Filed Under: local government, Wisconsin Supreme Court, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, home-rule, municipalities, Wisconsin municipalities, police

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