Judge upholds Village’s liquor license extension“The decision of the Somerset Village board is affirmed.” With those words, Judge Scott Needham brought an end to the trial of Main, Inc. versus the Village of Somerset and Float-Rite Inc. in his judgement dated July 28.
By: Tom Lindfors, New Richmond News
“The decision of the Somerset Village board is affirmed.”
With those words, Judge Scott Needham brought an end to the trial of Main, Inc. versus the Village of Somerset and Float-Rite Inc. in his judgement dated July 28.
Mary Wallace, owner of the Liquor Depot (Main, Inc.), had filed a civil suit against the two defendants on June 18. She maintained that the Village Board should not have granted the liquor license extension to Float-Rite for their new Apple River Liquor Store at 520 Main Street.
Wallace declined to comment on the ruling.
John Montpetit, owner of Float-Rite, had applied for the liquor license extension May 12. He already has a Class B license for the Look Out Bar inside Float-Rite Park. When he leased the former car dealership at 520 Main Street, he converted it into a liquor store and asked the Village Board to extend his current license to include the new premises.
According to Village ordinances, a retail Class A intoxicating liquor license allows the holder to sell, deal and traffic in intoxicating liquors only in original packages or containers and to be consumed off the premises so licensed.
A retail Class B intoxicating liquor license, allows its holder to sell, deal and traffic in intoxicating liquors to be consumed by the glass only on the premises so licensed and in the original package or container in multiples not to exceed four (4) liters at any one (1) time, to be consumed off the premises, except that wine may be sold in the original package or otherwise in any other quantity to be consumed off the premises.
Both the Class A and B licenses have a quota of one license per 1,500 people in a community. The State of Wisconsin estimates Somerset has a population of 2,250. Currently there are two Class A licenses and five Class B licenses in Somerset that were “grandfathered” in when the statute was passed.
“They (Village office) told me the population has to increase for another license to be available,” Wallace said in an earlier interview. She explained she had initially thought of having two locations.
A special Village Board meeting was held on June 9. After hearing opposition from Wallace’s attorney, the Board approved the liquor license extension.
“The applicant has control over the adjacent properties; these are satellite sites that are seasonal,” said Jeff Johnson, Village president, at the meeting. “In my opinion, we are not creating an additional license, it was a 12-month license already.”
Wallace filed for a temporary injunction against the Apple River Liquor Store while waiting for the trial. At the July 1 hearing, Judge Needham denied her request but offered to make up the trial date to July 17 for a “timely determination of outstanding issues.”
At the July 17 trial, Matthew Cornetta, attorney for Main, Inc., argued that in granting the license extension, the Village Board “undermined” the state quotas of only one license per 1,500.
He also said Title 7, Chapter 2, Section 10c of the ordinance said “a separate license shall be required for each stand, place, room or enclosure or for each suite of rooms or enclosures which are in direct connection or communication where intoxicating liquor or fermented malt beverages are kept, sold or offered for sale.”
Float-Rite has an address of 710 Spring Street. The Apple River Liquor Store is approximately 3/4 mile away at 520 Main Street.
“Separate address, separate location,” Cornetta said.
Attorneys Mark Gherty and Ryan Steffes, representing Float-Rite and the Village of Somerset respectively, argued that liquor license grants are left up to the discretion of the municipal board -- not the courts.
“It’s up to the municipalities to determine what constitutes premises,” Steffes said.
“The application defined the premises; a map was attached that showed this new location,” Gherty said. “The Board sought legal counsel that night and they voted to approve it.”
At the end of the trial, Judge Needham said he would render his judgment in ten days.
By July 30, the 18-page document was completed.
“Whether this court would have made the same decision as the Village Board is irrelevant to the inquiry,” the judgment begins.
“As the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Wisconsin Court of Appeals have made abundantly clear, the discretion afforded to municipalities in granting liquor licenses is a time-tested tenet of our law and this court again cannot disturb a finding unless it is clearly arbitrary or contrary to law.
“As this is not the case, the decision of the Somerset Village Board is affirmed.”
“I am pleased with the court’s decision,” Johnson said. “We (the Board) spent a lot of time and effort to research the merits of our actions. As in any small municipality, it is difficult to separate the personalities and emotions of the parties involved from the business at hand. We felt confident in our decision based on several legal opinions.”
Attempts to contact John Montpetit for comment were unsuccessful.