Friday, November 29, 2013

State ex rel. Sprague v. City of Madison case brief

State ex rel. Sprague v. City of Madison case brief summary
555 N.W.2d 409 (Wis. Ct. App. 1996)

Appellant roommates sought review of an order of the Circuit Court for Dane County (Wisconsin), which affirmed a decision of respondent, the Madison Equal Opportunity Commission (MEOC), finding that the roommates violated Madison, Wis. Gen. Ordinance § 3.23(4)(a) when the roommates refused to rent a room to respondent tenant on the basis of her sexual orientation.

The tenant sought to rent a room from the roommates. The roommates declined to rent the tenant a room based on her sexual orientation. The MEOC and the trial court found that the roommates violated § 3.23(4)(a) when they declined to rent the room to the tenant. The roommates appealed.

The court held that applying § 3.23(4) to the rental of a room within a house with shared common areas was not unreasonable or absurd.


  • The trial court was correct in not considering the roommates' argument that § 3.23 was unconstitutional because they failed to notify the attorney general of their challenge, as required by Wis. Stat. § 806.04(11). 
  • However, the roommates' notice to the attorney general subsequent to the trial court's decision cured the defect. 
  • The roommates gave up their unqualified right to constitutional protection when they rented housing for profit. 
  • The restrictions placed by the city on persons who rent housing for profit were neither unreasonable nor encroached upon the roommates' constitutional protections. 
  • Madison Ordinance § 3.23 did not explicitly authorize MEOC to award compensatory or punitive damages.

The court affirmed the judgment of the trial court which affirmed the decision of the MEOC that the roommates violated city ordinance when they declined to rent a room to the tenant based on her sexual orientation. The court reversed the order of the trial court which affirmed the MEOC's award of damages for emotional distress to the tenant.

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