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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Taverns win suit after long battle with state court

After a four-year and nearly $700,000 battle through the
court system, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided Tuesday that Madison-area
tavern owners did not violate anti-trust laws on their voluntary ban of weekend
drink specials.

Pete Madland, executive director of the Wisconsin Tavern
League, which was the defendant in the case, said while they were happy with
the decision, the cost of both the state and the still-pending federal cases
have been tremendous.

“Obviously we’re happy with the decision. This is a
situation where tavern owners were trying to work with the city to solve a
problem,” Madland said. “The court decided the spirit was proper, and
the bar owners did nothing wrong.”


In 2004 three individuals, including two University of
Wisconsin students, filed a lawsuit against a group of downtown area taverns
for banning weekend specials, which they said amounted to price fixing.

Kendall Harrison, attorney for the taverns, said the Supreme
Court decided what the taverns have been arguing from the beginning of the

“This is exactly how we expected it would end. From the
outset, we argued that our clients had done what the city asked them to do.
That’s the way the Supreme Court saw it,” Harrison said. “It was
pretty clear from the fact that it was in response to the city’s regulatory

Had the Supreme Court decided against them, the plaintiffs
believe they would have been awarded tens of millions of dollars in damages
since they claimed to be representing a whole group of bar-going people, according
to Harrison.

The Supreme Court decision said since the city of Madison
threatened the taverns with alternative actions, the health and safety immunity
received by local municipalities should extend to the taverns in this case. If
the tavern owners did not find a solution, the city would have made ordinances
banning drink specials at all times.

Attorney for the plaintiffs Kay Hunt said because the law
does not state private businesses can have this immunity, she does not think it
should apply to them.

“Our government is a government of laws and rules and
regulations,” Hunt said. “It’s one thing if the city of Madison says
it, but if individuals engage in it themselves, it is something quite

Wisconsin’s anti-trust laws do not allow businesses to get
together and decide to create a fixed price in order to make more money,
according to Harrison. In this instance, the court decided that since the city
regulates alcohol licensing and they were the instigator of the ban, the
businesses were not trying to restrain competition.

Hunt thinks this decision may have greater implications for
the state down the road.

“If you have a highly regulated industry, that can then
be used to make you immune from price fixing,” Hunt said.

Justice David Prosser wrote the majority opinion with
Justices Annette Ziegler and Patience Roggensack concurring. Justice Louis
Butler wrote the dissenting opinion saying the law itself does not grant
private individuals immunity. Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Patrick Crooks did
not participate, and Justice Shirley Abrahamson withdrew from participation.

The matter now moves to a federal case before District
Justice Lynn Adelman, who was waiting on the outcome of today’s decision before
making his decision, according to Harrison.

According to the decision, the university issued a press
release March 10, 2004 stating the voluntary drink specials ban “has been
inconclusive and serious alcohol-related crime continues to rise.”?A
university PACE Project study of downtown police calls found that downtown
disorderly conduct violations increased 38 percent on Friday nights and 38.4
percent on Saturday nights from August 2002 to August 2003 when the voluntary
ban was in place.

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