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Beres v. New Berlin

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Mar 3, 1967
34 Wis. 2d 229 (Wis. 1967)


February 2, 1967. —

March 3, 1967.

APPEAL from an order of the circuit court for Waukesha county: CLAIR VOSS, Circuit Judge. Affirmed.

For the appellant there was a brief by Carr, Mazza Wagner of New Berlin, attorneys, and John A. Udovc of Milwaukee of counsel, and oral argument by Mr. John T. Carr and Mr. Udovc.

For the respondents there was a brief and oral argument by Clayton A. Cramer of Waukesha, city attorney.

The petitioner and appellant is the owner of a plumbing shop. He had directed a mandamus action against the city of New Berlin, its mayor, and its aldermen, as members of the common council, to compel the amendment of a zoning ordinance. The petitioner alleges that it was the declared policy of the planning commission that, in the event of a change in the use classification districts of the city, all businesses that were theretofore conforming uses, but by the new zoning law would become nonconforming, should be rezoned so as to conform with the new use district classifications. He alleges that he erected a new plumbing shop in reliance upon this policy, but thereafter, when the new ordinance was passed, his property became nonconforming under the new use district classification. This did not affect his present operation but, as a nonconforming user, he could not thereafter expand his facilities or increase the size of his operation.

He complains that he was denied equal protection, because the policy announced by the zoning commission was put into effect with respect to all other establishments that became nonconforming upon the passage of the new ordinance. It appears that after the passage of the new zoning regulations there were 43 parcels that thereby became nonconforming, but 42 of them were made conforming by the council's passage of a specific ordinance that provided, by a "spot" zoning method, that they were in conformance with the zoning district in which they were located. The petitioner induced the council to pass a similar ordinance on his behalf, but the ordinance was vetoed by the mayor and the vote in the council was not sufficient to override the veto. A mandamus action was brought to compel the passage of such ordinance.

The trial judge quashed the writ for mandamus on two grounds: First, that the act sought to be compelled was legislative in nature, and only ministerial acts of public officers could be forced by a writ of mandamus; and, second, that there were other remedies available to the petitioner that have not been exhausted. It is from this order that the petitioner appeals.

It is well settled that mandamus will not lie to compel the performance of an official act when the officer's duty is not clear and requires the exercise of judgment and discretion. Wisconsin Pharmaceutical Asso. v. Lee (1953), 264 Wis. 325, 58 N.W.2d 700. It is equally true that "mandamus is not a proper remedy to control the acts of municipal bodies when acting within the scope of their legal powers, on matters in respect of which they are vested with discretion . . . ." 55 C.J.S., Mandamus, p. 212, sec. 124 (2).

This court has held that the exercise of the zoning power is "a field of legislative discretion within which its acts are not subject to judicial review." La Crosse v. Elbertson (1931), 205 Wis. 207, 211, 237 N.W. 99; Eggebeen v. Sonnenburg (1941), 239 Wis. 213, 218, 1 N.W.2d 84, 138 A.L.R. 495.

However, this court has taken the position that a writ of mandamus will issue to enforce the performance of plain imperative duties of a ministerial character imposed on a public body such as a city council ( State ex rel. Ingold v. Mayor and Common Council of the City of Madison (1919), 170 Wis. 133, 174 N.W. 471), or a county board ( State ex rel. Owen v. Stevenson (1917), 164 Wis. 569, 161 N.W. 1).

Thus it is only in the event that that zoning was treated administratively or in a mere ministerial, rather than a legislative, fashion that the actions of the common council could be compelled by mandamus. McQuillin has stated:

"Mandamus proceedings cannot be used to interfere with the discretion of zoning authorities, and in the absence of facts showing an abuse of discretion or other legal error to the prejudice of the rights of the relator, a writ of mandamus to compel the issuance of a permit or other administrative action in zoning will be denied. That is to say, the discretion of the municipal authorities in denying a permit for a use is frequently not controllable by mandamus." 8A McQuillin, Mun. Corp. (3d ed.), p. 381, sec. 25.307.

The allegation that the nonconforming status of 42 businesses was corrected by council action could be construed, arguably at least, to show that the common council was engaged, not in the exercise of its legislative function, but rather in the administration of the ordinance on a case-by-case basis. Particularly, this might be true if there were evidence to show that plaintiff's property did not differ in any relevant way from the other 42 parcels. Under such a state of facts the appellant contends that the council was subject to compulsion by a writ of mandamus.

In State ex rel. O'Neil v. Hallie (1963), 19 Wis.2d 558, 120 N.W.2d 641, a case involving the licensing of a drive-in theater, we pointed out that a town board had, by granting a license to one theater, effected an administrative determination of the standards set by ordinance and that it could not then refuse to meet the de facto standards of the ordinance even though licensing is, in general, a discretionary function. The petitioner herein contends that the Hallie rationale should be applicable to him — that if the common council unfairly applied the general zoning ordinance to other similarly situated businesses so as to exempt them from its requirements, mandamus should be available, for what it would compel would not be an act of general legislative discretion but merely a ministerial and administrative act.

Whatever merit this proposition of law might have cannot be considered upon this appeal. No facts have been alleged that would bring the petitioner arguably within the Hallie rule. There is nothing of record to show that the other 42 businesses were either similar or different from the petitioner's plumbing business. Accordingly, the merits of petitioner's contention cannot be reached even if the Hallie rationale, as a matter of law, were applicable.

Even more decisive of this appeal is the fact that the petitioner did not exhaust the available administrative remedies before resorting to the courts. The trial court in part bottomed its decision upon such failure, and we agree with that conclusion.

Even in those cases where mandamus would clearly be a proper remedy, it is available only "where the applicant has exhausted or does not have an adequate remedy through further administrative proceedings and appeal therefrom to the courts." 8A McQuillin, supra, p. 380, sec. 25.307.

This jurisdiction has uniformly held that:

"Mandamus may not be maintained if some other, plain, adequate, and complete remedy exists." Burke v. Madison (1962), 17 Wis.2d 623, 631, 117 N.W.2d 580, 118 N.W.2d 898; State ex rel. Racine County v. Schmidt (1959), 7 Wis.2d 528, 536, 97 N.W.2d 493.

We stated in Jefferson County v. Timmel (1952), 261 Wis. 39, 63, 51 N.W.2d 518:

"8 McQuillin, Mun. Corp. (3d ed.), p. 538, sec. 25.283, states that the authorities are in conflict as to whether a property owner must first pursue and exhaust the administrative remedy available to him under a zoning ordinance or statute before resorting to the courts for injunctive or other relief. We believe the sounder rule is that which holds that if a zoning ordinance provides for an appeal to a board of adjustment created pursuant to a statute similar to sec. 59.99 from an adverse ruling of an administrative officer or board in administering the ordinance, and court review of the decision or order of the board of adjustment is specifically provided for by statute, such remedy is exclusive of all other remedies and must be exhausted before a party can resort to the courts for other relief except in cases where the validity of the ordinance itself is attacked."

Sec. 62.23 (7) (e), Stats., requires city councils to establish boards of zoning appeals and sets forth certain required procedures with regard thereto. Sec. 62.23 (7) (e) (11) provides for judicial review by way of a writ of certiorari. As pointed out in the respondent's brief, sec. 12.19 of the New Berlin Code creates such a board of appeals to which the petitioner could have appealed. The appellant's petition for the writ did not allege that he had exhausted this available remedy. He does not now maintain that he did.

There is no showing that the petitioner has petitioned the board of zoning appeals for any variance from the present zoning, or that any request to that board has been denied. In the absence of such administrative action, the petitioner's grievances, which might have been correctable by the board, cannot be brought before a court. The administrative procedures that are available by statute have not been exhausted or even resorted to. The petitioner's writ was properly quashed.

By the Court. — Order affirmed.

Summaries of

Beres v. New Berlin

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Mar 3, 1967
34 Wis. 2d 229 (Wis. 1967)
Case details for

Beres v. New Berlin

Case Details

Full title:BERES, Appellant, v. CITY OF NEW BERLIN and others, Respondents

Court:Supreme Court of Wisconsin

Date published: Mar 3, 1967


34 Wis. 2d 229 (Wis. 1967)
148 N.W.2d 653

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