RACINE — A federal judge has dismissed the civil rights lawsuit brought against the city by the former owners of six shuttered bars.
The order was issued Wednesday morning in Milwaukee by U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, less than two weeks after the city filed a brief reaffirming its position that the case be tossed.
Filed Feb. 25 in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the 50-page lawsuit alleged that the city, Mayor John Dickert and 17 other defendants engaged in an elaborate plot to bankroll Dickert’s campaign while conspiring to drive minority tavern owners out of the city and give their liquor licenses to white bar owners. In addition to violating the federal Civil Rights Act, the suit claimed the defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly called RICO, through their alleged involvement in the scheme.
It was the vagueness of the lawsuit’s many claims, and the complaint’s failure to indicate which plaintiff was making which claim against which defendant and in what capacity, writes Stadtmueller, that all but forced him to grant the city’s motion to dismiss.
“Rather than work with a rifle, the plaintiffs unholstered their bazooka,” he writes of the “broad” nature of the complaint.
Dickert said Wednesday that city officials were happy that the case had been dismissed, but sorry that it had come at such an expense to the taxpayers.
The latest bill from the city’s attorney in the case, Michael J. Cohen of Meissner, Tierney, Fisher & Nichols S.C., puts the legal cost of the lawsuit at $87,963, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
While the plaintiffs seemed to be seeking to address the lack of clarity in their complaint in subsequent filings by dismissing some or all claims against certain defendants — the Civil Rights and RICO claims were dismissed against Mayor John Dickert and the other municipal defendants in “their official capacity” for instance—Stadtmueller states that he remains confused by “what claims are viable and against whom.”
“Without a doubt, the parties, including the plaintiffs, must be, too,” he adds of the confusion.
Going on to address the claims themselves, the alleged Civil Rights Act violations as well as the RICO claims, Stadtmueller found that the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead their case.
In the case of the Civil Rights allegations against the municipal defendants, he writes that the plaintiffs failed to allege that certain defendants had any personal involvement in the “alleged deprivations of the plaintiffs’ civil rights.”
“By and large, the allegations are too bare bones to find even the specter of personal responsibility,” he writes. “Meanwhile, the plaintiffs do not explain how some defendants — (Dickert’s administrative assistant Greg Bach), for example did not begin working for Dickert until 2009 — should be liable to each of the plaintiffs, even those who suffered alleged deprivations when those defendants could not have participated in a deprivation.”
As for the RICO claims, Stadtmueller spends much of the 29-page order spelling out how the plaintiffs either failed to properly show how the defendants’ alleged actions could be considered predicate acts under the RICO statute or neglected to give factual allegations to support those claims.
While the complaint and the plaintiffs’ other filings may be confusing or haphazard, that doesn’t mean all their claims — such as the allegations that minority bar owners were held to different standards than white bar owners — should not be explored further, Stadtmueller states.
“Their general allegations suggest a case with serious potential that should proceed to discovery,” he writes.
A new complaint?
By dismissing the case without prejudice, he has left room for the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, if only, as he points out in the decision, to give them the chance to clear up the problems in the original complaint. By dismissing the case without prejudice, he has left room for the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, if only, as he points out in the decision, to give them the chance to clear up the problems in the original complaint.
It remains to be seen whether the plaintiffs will opt to file an amended complaint. Attempts to reach the plaintiffs’ attorneys were unsuccessful Wednesday.
If the plaintiffs’ attorneys do file an amended complaint, Stadtmueller urges them to be specific.
“The court admonishes the plaintiffs to carefully consider what claims they are bringing and against whom and avoid bringing meritless claims against blameless defendants,” he writes. “Working with a scalpel rather than a butcher knife requires more time, but leads to a more precise result.”
“Rather than work with a rifle, the plaintiffs unholstered their bazooka.” U.S. District Judge Stadtmueller on the broad nature of the bar owners’ complaint against the city and other defendants.