Lawsuit challenges Dane County’s restrictions on indoor gatherings

MADISON, Wis. — A lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court on Wednesday  looks to overturn the gathering ban and restrictions continuously put into place by Public Health Madison and Dane County.

Emergency Health Order #12 is currently in effect for Dane County. It’s set to expire on Feb. 10. The order allows for indoor gatherings of up to 10 people and limits outdoor gatherings to 50 people.

Wednesday’s lawsuit argues the order is an overreach of the legal authority granted to local health officers and unlawful delegation of authority from elected bodies. It is similar to an original action Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in November 2020.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against the first lawsuit,  with Justice Brian Hagedorn saying the case did not belong in the Supreme Court but that the arguments had merits.

Wednesday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Dane County residents, Jeffrey Becker and Andrea Klein, both defendants listed in the previous lawsuit.

Becker and Klein say the public health orders impact sporting events in southern Wisconsin. Both of them have multiple children that participate in youth sporting leagues and associations in Dane County. Each family says it has been directly impacted by the sports restrictions under the emergency orders issued by public health.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against the first lawsuit,  with Justice Brian Hagedorn saying the case did not belong in the Supreme Court but that the arguments had merits.

“I think the law is clearly on our side in this case.  There’s a number of statutes that indicate the health officer does not have unilateral power to issue a broad, enforceable order sort of dictating and regulating all aspects of life,” said WILL Deputy Counsel, Luke Berg. 

Public Health Madison and Dane County issued a brief response to News 3 Now’s requests for comment on the lawsuit.

“We are confident that our Emergency Order is legal under the statute. We will not comment further on pending litigation.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi also issued as statement regarding WILL’s legal challenge, saying now is “not the time to go backwards.”

“Had this conservative group’s outdated ideology prevailed over the course of this pandemic, more of our Dane County neighbors would have needlessly suffered the ravages of Covid-19, Parisi said in a statement Wednesday.

“We remain in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. The Public Health orders in place are based in science, they’re necessary to save lives, and are legal. This conservative group’s last attempt to usurp common sense public health policy failed and this one will as well.”

Madison’s mayor also said the lawsuit by WILL continues to undermine efforts to keep people safe and alive.

“Thirty-eight percent of people who tested positive in our community reported attending a gathering or party, which is the highest percentage we have seen since August,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a statement.

“Any time people gather, there is opportunity for the virus to spread, which prolongs the pandemic. Without gathering limits, we believe this number would be even higher, and the virus would be spreading more.”