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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Rowdy Bar Doesn’t Have a Case Over Lose License

CHICAGO (CN) - Wisconsin properly revoked the liquor license of a college dive bar, following repeated brawls between patrons and employees, the 7th Circuit ruled.

The Nasty Habit Saloon, located near the heart of the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, campus, is a popular student destination on weekends.

Trouble at the bar began in 2005, when fights between drunken patrons and bar bouncers invited regular police intervention. Nasty Habit owner Scott Hegwood met with police and pledged to make changes.

"In one instance, a Nasty Habit employee ushered underage girls into the Nasty Habit's basement to hide from police officers conducting a bar check; on another night, a Nasty Habit employee repeatedly punched a customer in the face," according to the 7th Circuit. Police had to use their Tasers on employees and make arrests.

Eventually the city of Eau Claire sent Hegwood a letter concluding that the bar was a "disorderly house" under Wisconsin statute and could lose its liquor license. Hegwood ignored an ultimatum to voluntarily close for three weeks, or the city would seek suspension or revocation of the license.

When more fights occurred, the city sought to revoke Hegwood's license based on eight incidents, most of which had required police intervention. The Nasty Habit lost its license, and Hegwood filed suit, alleging retaliation and violations of the equal protection and due process clauses.

Hegwood alleged that Wisconsin's law regulating liquor licensing was unconstitutionally vague, but the Chief U.S. District Judge William Conley sided with the city on summary judgment.

A three-judge appellate panel affirmed Monday.

"A statute is only unconstitutionally vague 'if it fails to define the offense with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and it fails to establish standards to permit enforcement in a nonarbitrary, nondiscriminatory manner,'" Judge Joel Flaum wrote for the court.

Wisconsin's liquor licensing requirements clearly meet this standard, the court found. The statute was sufficiently defined and clearly applied to The Nasty Habit.

"As the District Court correctly observed, under any interpretation of the statute, the Nasty Habit is 'something less than an ideal candidate to challenge the boundaries of Wisconsin's disorderly house statute,'" Flaum concluded.

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