January/February 2022 Issue
Also in this issue: Final ARPA Rule May Facilitate Infrastructure Projects to Provide Government Services | Wisconsin Supreme Court: Municipalities Not Entitled to Certiorari Review of Tax Assessments
Court Upholds Milwaukee’s Decision to Terminate Licenses for Gas Station Found to Be a Nuisance
The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) and the neighbors near the Citgo gas station on North 35th Street were getting fed up. An extensive MPD report detailed several shootings, armed robberies, illegal drug transactions and panhandling complaints at and around the gas station. After a hearing, Milwaukee terminated all of the licenses held by the station, and the termination of those licenses was upheld by the Circuit Court in Milwaukee and the District I Court of Appeals. VK Citgo v. City of Milwaukee, 2020 AP 1458 (Dec. 28, 2021, not recommended for publication).
Citgo held licenses for Extended Hours Establishments (allowing 24-hour operation), Filling Station, Weights and Measures, and Food Dealer (the Licenses) under Milwaukee’s ordinances. When Citgo applied to renew those Licenses in 2019, the City sent a formal notice that the Licenses might be terminated for a number of reasons, including that the gas station “tends to facilitate a public or private nuisance,” that it “has been the source of congregations of persons,” and that these led to complaints of “illegal drug activity, disturbing the peace, thefts, assaults, and batteries.” Attached to the notice was the extensive MPD police report, and a nuisance letter from an MPD Captain, finding the station was a nuisance for the incidents in the letter. A hearing was set for December 3, 2019, before the City’s Licensing Committee.
The MPD Captain testified at the hearing, detailing the problems in the MPD Report, and that Citgo’s attempt to come up with an approved nuisance abatement plan had been unsuccessful. He recommended terminating only the Extended Hours license. Neighbors also testified as to the problems at the station, as did the Milwaukee Alder from the district.
Citgo argued it had done all that it could, including employing security guards and security cameras, and the problems often started elsewhere.
At the end of the hearing, the Licensing Committee voted to recommend that ALL of the Licenses for Citgo not be renewed. The Milwaukee Common Council adopted the Committee’s recommendations. Citgo appealed to Circuit Court by a certiorari action.
The only issue raised by Citgo was a due process argument. Citgo claimed the original notice from Milwaukee was inadequate, arguing that it failed to advise them of the specific incidents that were behind the non-renewal proceeding.
The Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals quickly rejected that argument and upheld the non-renewal of the Licenses. The courts noted that the notice itself was relatively brief, but that Milwaukee had attached the extensive MPD report and the nuisance letter, both of which detailed the incidents leading to the non-renewal proceeding. The courts concluded Citgo had sufficient notice to meet both due process and the Milwaukee ordinances.
The case indicates the importance of municipalities maintaining adequate records on problem properties and using those records to give adequate notice of the basis of any proceeding to revoke or non-renew a license.
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