— Parents in Fond du Lac County can host underage
drinkers in their homes without running afoul of a local
prohibition, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.
District Court of Appeals ruled the county's ordinance is
invalid because it's stricter than a state law that blocks
adults from hosting underage drinkers only in taverns and
liquor stores. The ruling could invalidate similarly
worded local anti-hosting ordinances across the state.
like this send a mixed message on the importance of the
21-year-old drinking age and what municipalities can do to
combat underage drinking," said Frank Harris,
national director of state government affairs for Mothers
Against Drunk Drivers. "Hosting laws are supposed to
make parents think twice before throwing an underage
drinking party for their kids."
ruling stems from a case involving a Van Dyne man named
Stuart Muche. He was cited in June 2015 with violating
Fond du Lac County's ordinance against adults hosting
underage drinkers in their residences after underage
people began drinking at a graduation party he threw for
his son. Muche was assessed a $1,000 forfeiture.
on appeal that the local ordinance was invalid because it
doesn't conform with a state law that bars adults from
hosting underage drinkers on a premises that the adult
owns or controls. He contended that statutes define
premises in this context as an area described in a license
or permit — namely, a tavern or a liquor store.
appellate court agreed with him, ruling 3-0 that Fond du
Lac's definition improperly goes beyond the state law.
also found that the ordinance's penalties don't conform
with state law, noting that the ordinance prescribes
forfeitures ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 while under
state law a first offense carries a maximum forfeiture of
$500. The court said local penalties can't exceed state
Paul Reilly wrote in a concurring opinion that he believes
the ordinance doesn't conform with the state law because
of the discrepancy between forfeiture amounts but the case
should have been resolved on that basis alone and delving
into an analysis of the premises definition was
conclude that (state law) is only violated if the adult
owns a liquor store or tavern and allows an underage party
to occur at the store or tavern is the wrong reading ...
and is clearly not what the Legislature wrote or
intended," Reilly wrote.
Lac County Assistant District Attorney Curtis Borsheim,
who handled the appeal for the county, didn't immediately
respond to a voicemail left at his office Wednesday
Wisconsin Counties Association filed briefs in the case
supporting the local ordinance. The association's
attorney, Patrick Henneger, declined comment. A message
left at WCA's offices wasn't immediately returned.