County of Milwaukee v. Williams, 2005AP2686.

Citation2007 WI 69,732 N.W.2d 770
Decision Date12 June 2007
Docket NumberNo. 2005AP2686.,No. 2005AP2687.,2005AP2686.,2005AP2687.
PartiesCOUNTY OF MILWAUKEE, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Lawrence C. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner. County of Milwaukee, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Russell L. Hegney, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
732 N.W.2d 770
2007 WI 69
COUNTY OF MILWAUKEE, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Lawrence C. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
County of Milwaukee, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Russell L. Hegney, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.

[732 N.W.2d 771]

No. 2005AP2686.
No. 2005AP2687.
Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Argued March 6, 2007.
Decided June 12, 2007.

[732 N.W.2d 772]

For the defendants-appellants-petitioners there were briefs by Peter C. Carstensen & William Rosales and University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison, and Douglas P. Dehler and Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah, LLC, Milwaukee, and oral argument by Peter C. Carstensen.

For the plaintiffs-respondents there was a brief by Thomas J. McAdams, assistant district attorney and E. Michael McCann, district attorney, Milwaukee, and William J. Domina, Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel and Timothy R. Karaskiewicz, principal assistant corporation counsel, Milwaukee, and oral argument by Timothy R. Karaskiewicz.

An amicus curiae brief was filed by Gwendolyn J. Cooley, assistant attorney general with whom on the brief was J.B. Van Hollen, attorney general.


The petitioners, Lawrence C. Williams and Russell L. Hegney, seek review of a published court of appeals decision that affirmed judgments of conviction. The defendants

732 N.W.2d 773

were found guilty of picking up passengers in their taxis at General Mitchell International Airport ("Airport") without an Airport permit, in violation Milwaukee County Ordinance 4.05.1 They assert that Ordinance 4.05 is invalid on several grounds: (1) that Ordinance 4.05 conflicts with Wis. Stat. § 114.14;2 (2) that Ordinance 4.05 conflicts with Wis. Stat. §§ 133.01, 349.24, and 194.02; and (3) that the restrictions on prearranged taxi service in Ordinance 4.05 are unconstitutional because they impermissibly interfere with interstate commerce.

¶ 2 We determine that Ordinance 4.05, which prohibits taxis without Airport permits from making prearranged pickups, conflicts with the requirement under § 114.14 that the public have equal access to airport services, and to that extent is invalid and unenforceable. However, we determine that Ordinance 4.05 does not conflict with Wis. Stat. §§ 133.01, 349.24, and 194.02. Because our decision rests on statutory grounds, we do not reach the question of whether the restrictions on prearranged taxi service in Ordinance 4.05 impermissibly interfere with interstate commerce.

¶ 3 Fundamentally, this case is about whether part of a county ordinance conflicts with a state statute passed by the legislature. Ultimately, it is about whether that part of the Ordinance arbitrarily excludes members of the public from equal and uniform use of the Airport.

¶ 4 This case, however, is not about requiring the Airport to return to an "open" taxi system where there was no limitation on taxis conducting business at the Airport. The record demonstrates the need for Milwaukee County to regulate commercial ground transportation at the Airport. It recognizes how Milwaukee County has made great strides in reducing congestion, increasing efficiency, and enhancing safety at the Airport.

¶ 5 The error here is not remedied by a return to the open system. Rather, it is remedied by the elimination of an arbitrary exclusion. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals, and remand with instructions to vacate the judgments of conviction.


¶ 6 The factual record is limited in this case. It is based on a stipulation of facts agreed to by the parties together with affidavits incorporated into the stipulation.

¶ 7 Until the late 1980s, General Mitchell International Airport had an "open" taxi system that did not limit taxis from conducting business at the Airport. The open system led to a number of problems. Taxis had to wait up to five hours for customers, and because of the long wait they sometimes would refuse "short-haul" fares. The Airport's limited space led to a chaotic taxi staging area, with taxi traffic that spilled onto the Airport's roadway. This created a safety problem for the Airport's non-taxi traffic. The congestion and chaos from taxis jockeying for position led to fights between taxi drivers.

¶ 8 In addition to problems created by too many taxis vying for fares, the open system created problems of too few taxis

732 N.W.2d 774

at off-peak times. Passengers seeking curbside taxi pickups endured long waits for rides.

¶ 9 In the late 1980s, Milwaukee County ("County") addressed these problems by adopting Ordinance 4.05, which regulates commercial ground transportation at the Airport. The Ordinance requires that taxis picking up passengers at the Airport have a permit from the Airport in addition to the city, town, or village license required under Wis. Stat. § 349.24. Milw. County Ord. 4.05(3)(b)(5), 4.05(3)(b)(1). Under Ordinance 4.05, the number of permits issued for taxis to do business is capped at 50, though the Airport Director is authorized to request additional taxis to meet immediate demand under extraordinary circumstances (for example, large conventions or inclement weather). Milw. County Ord. 4.05(3)(b)(3)(a). Under an exception to the permit rule, taxis are not required to have permits in order to drop off passengers at the Airport. Milw. County Ord. 4.05(3)(b)(5).

¶ 10 Limousines are not subject to permit requirements, but are allowed to take customers only on a prearranged (or in the words of the Ordinance, "prereserved") basis. Milw. County Ord. 4.05(6). Under the Ordinance, the limousines have a designated area to meet their prearranged passengers.3 Non-permitted taxis are prohibited from using that designated area and are excluded from being at the Airport to meet prearranged passengers.

¶ 11 Since the adoption of Ordinance 4.05, the problems of the open system have abated. The time that taxis must wait for fares has decreased, and the time that passengers must wait for curbside taxi service has decreased. The cap on taxi permits has reduced the congestion problems, and taxis no longer spill into the Airport roadway to create a hazard for other Airport traffic. The limited number of taxis also allows Airport staff to inspect periodically the taxis servicing the Airport, which has resulted in taxis that are better maintained and cleaner than under the open system.

¶ 12 Taxis provide service using two distinct methods. The first is curbside service, which is on-demand service where passengers get taxis without having made a prior agreement to meet the taxi. The second is "prearranged" or "prereserved" service. It involves a prior agreement to pick up a passenger at a particular time and place. In the case of prearranged airport service, a reservation typically is made prior to the traveler's departure. The requirement that taxis have an Airport permit to "do business" at the Airport encompasses both curbside and prearranged pickup services.4

732 N.W.2d 775

¶ 13 Williams and Hegney were taxi drivers for Quality Cab Company, which is based in Fond du Lac. Quality Cab has relationships with individuals and businesses in the Fond du Lac area that request Quality Cab provide transportation to and from the Airport. As of January 2005, Quality Cab did not have a valid Airport permit, and thus Williams and Hegney did not possess valid permits pursuant to Ordinance 4.05(3)(b)(5).

¶ 14 On different dates in January 2005, Williams and Hegney traveled to the Airport to pick up passengers who had made prior arrangements for pickups by Quality Cab. After ignoring warnings that they could not accept departing taxi fares from the Airport, Williams and Hegney were issued citations for violating Ordinance 4.05(3)(b)(5).

¶ 15 The petitioners did not dispute that they lacked the appropriate permits under Ordinance 4.05. Rather, they moved the circuit court to dismiss the citations, arguing that the Ordinance is invalid because it conflicts with Wis. Stat. §§ 349.24, 194.02, and 133.01. After the circuit court denied the motion, Williams and Hegney stipulated to facts and received fines of $250. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that Wis. Stat. § 114.14 provides Milwaukee County the authority to regulate taxis at the Airport, that Wis. Stat. §§ 349.24, 194.02, and 133.01 are consistent with Ordinance 4.05, and that Ordinance 4.05 was therefore valid.


¶ 16 In this case we address Milwaukee County's ability to enact an ordinance that prohibits taxis without Airport permits from making prearranged pickups of customers, where the same ordinance allows limousines without permits to make such pickups.5

¶ 17 We examine whether Milwaukee County Ordinance 4.05 is in part invalid and unenforceable because it conflicts with a state statute. Resolution of this inquiry involves the interpretation of the Ordinance and the statute. Each presents a question of law which we review independently. State ex rel. Teunas v. County of Kenosha, 142 Wis.2d 498, 504, 418 N.W.2d 833 (1988); Milwaukee Police Ass'n v. Hegerty, 2005 WI 28, ¶ 11, 279 Wis.2d 150, 693 N.W.2d 738.


¶ 18 At oral argument, the petitioners aptly described the case as follows.

This case is about the validity of an absolute ban on my clients' providing prereserved service to arriving travelers at Milwaukee Airport just because they drive taxis rather than limousines . . . . In other words, if they drove a limousine, they could have met their passengers and taken them back to Fond du Lac. The basic question in this case is why does the Ordinance impose this restraint on taxi drivers and taxi companies? . . .

No one disputes the authority of Milwaukee County to regulate traffic and other aspects of the Airport. Petitioners do challenge the County's claim that it has unfettered discretion to impose any regulation it sees fit, regardless of the public interest.

732 N.W.2d 776

¶ 19 The petitioners contend that the restriction is problematic in two respects. First, they argue that it is not within the...

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