Wisconsin Lawyer: Supreme Court Digest:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

Top Link Bar

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer

News & Pubs Search

Advanced

    Supreme Court Digest

    This column summarizes selected published opinions of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (except those involving lawyer or judicial discipline, which are digested elsewhere in the magazine). Prof. Daniel D. Blinka and Prof. Thomas J. Hammer invite comments and questions about the digests. They can be reached at the Marquette University Law School, 1103 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53233, (414) 288-7090.

    Prof. Daniel D. Blinka; Prof. Thomas J. Hammer

    Share This:

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 4, April 2008

    Supreme Court Digest

    This column summarizes selected published opinions of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (except those involving lawyer or judicial discipline, which are digested elsewhere in the magazine). Prof. Daniel D. Blinka and Prof. Thomas J. Hammer invite comments and questions about the digests. They can be reached at the Marquette University Law School, 1103 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53233, (414) 288-7090.

    by Prof. Daniel D. Blinka & Prof. Thomas J. Hammer

    Civil Procedure

    Intervention - Joinder

    Helgeland v. Wisconsin Municipalities, 2008 WI 9 (filed 7 Feb. 2008)

    Some state employees brought a claim contending that Wis. Stat. section 40.02(2) violates equal protection by denying gay and lesbian state employees and their same-sex domestic partners employment benefits that are available to similarly situated heterosexual state employees and their spouses. Eight municipalities sought to intervene as parties, but the circuit court rejected their attempt. The court of appeals affirmed.

    The supreme court, in a majority decision authored by Chief Justice Abrahamson, affirmed. The majority opinion underscored that the appeal concerned an important issue of civil procedure but only an issue of civil procedure, namely "whether the court should allow those eight municipalities to inject themselves into a state-employee-oriented lawsuit, instead of bringing their own lawsuit governing the rights of their own municipal employees" (¶ 3). The majority and dissent traded sharp broadsides about the case's underlying politics. The majority's "very long opinion" (¶ 20) (70 pages), which features a table of contents, is summarized thusly: "We conclude (1) that the municipalities have no right of intervention under Wis. Stat. § 803.09(1); (2) that the circuit court properly exercised its discretion in denying the municipalities permissive intervention under Wis. Stat. § 803.09(2); and (3) that the circuit court did not err in refusing to join the municipalities sua sponte under either Wis. Stat. § 803.03(1)(b)1. or § 806.04(11)" (¶ 34).

    Most of the majority opinion concerns the right of intervention under section 803.09, which is exhaustively analyzed. "Although it is arguable that the municipalities may claim a financial interest related to the DETF [Department of Employee Trust Funds] plans that are the subject of Helgeland's action and that disposition of the Helgeland action may, under the effect of stare decisis, as a practical matter impair or impede their ability to protect their stated interests, the municipalities make no showing that the financial interest is sufficient, direct, immediate, or special and that DETF inadequately represents their interests, much less a showing that could overcome the presumptions of adequacy applicable in this case" (¶ 115). The denial of permissive intervention turned on the issue of delay, which the lower courts properly assessed (see ¶ 126).

    The majority next held that the circuit court properly found no right of intervention for the municipalities as a "necessary party": "If a person has no right of intervention under Wis. Stat. § 803.09(1), the courts have no duty to join that person sua sponte as a necessary party under Wis. Stat. § 803.03(1)(b)1." (¶ 137). Finally, the majority held that joinder was inappropriate under the Wis. Stat. section 806.04(11) declaratory judgment procedures. "[The cited cases] are inapposite because Helgeland has not brought an action to declare her rights under any agreement, much less an agreement to which the municipalities are party. Helgeland seeks a declaration of her rights under state statutes and the state constitution, not rights under the interpretation of a contract. Helgeland is not a party to any contract asserted by the municipalities" (¶ 142).

    Justice Butler filed a brief concurring opinion.

    Justice Prosser, joined by Justices Roggensack and Ziegler, dissented on the ground that the eight municipalities should have been permitted to participate in the "spirit" of securing a "just and complete adjudication" (¶ 166). The dissent also took issue with what it saw as the majority's "new formulation" of the "interest element" under section 803.09 (¶ 172).




To view or add comment, Login