Federal judge throws out lawsuit challenging coronavirus rules across Wisconsin

MADISON – A federal judge threw out a lawsuit Friday challenging several coronavirus rules set by local health officials across Wisconsin, saying those challenging the health orders had been too scattershot with their lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Green Bay told those who brought the lawsuit they could try to revive their legal challenge in the next 30 days if they more carefully tailor it. 

Two dozen residents across the state in May challenged stay-at-home orders and other rules local officials had established to battle the coronavirus pandemic. They argued the rules interfered with their freedom of association, freedom of religion and other constitutional rights. 

But Griesbach concluded the plaintiffs had taken on too many officials in too many parts of the state with their lawsuit. 

“Each plaintiff is subject to different orders implemented by different individuals on behalf of different governmental entities in different parts of the state in which presumably different rates of infection, population density, and other pertinent conditions exist,” Griesbach wrote.

“Plaintiffs’ claims are largely separate and distinct, and none of the allegations contained in plaintiffs’ amended complaint link their claims to a single transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences giving rise to joint, several or alternative liability on the part of the named defendants.”

In short, he said those challenging local orders need to target the officials who issued rules that directly affect them, rather than grouping themselves together with others who are affected by health orders from other communities. 

It’s the second victory in recent weeks for local officials who have put in place rules meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. A state appeals court this month put back in place Racine’s coronavirus plan after a lower court had blocked it.

The state Supreme Court in May threw out the stay-at-home order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration. Local officials scrambled to put their own orders in place, some of which mirrored the ones written by the Evers administration. 

Since then, the City of Milwaukee and Dane County have put in place orders requiring people to wear face masks at stores and other indoor locations.

Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature have not taken any steps to put in new statewide coronavirus rules. 

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.