City of Stoughton v. Olson (Statutory Interpretation)

In City of Stoughton v. Olson (2019AP1872), the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court decision dismissing citations leveled against a bartender and owner for allowing minors to enter a dedicated bar area within a bowling center.


In 2017, a Stoughton police officer encountered an underage individual playing pool in the “bar area” within the Viking Lanes bowling center. Wisconsin law prohibits underage individuals from being on a premise  licensed to sell alcohol if unaccompanied by a parent or guardian. But the statute includes several exceptions—including for bowling centers. Wis. Stat.. § 125.07(3)(a). The police officer issued a citation to the owner of the bowling center and the bartender working at the time.

The two men appealed the citations, pointing to the exception for bowling centers. The City of Stoughton responded by claiming it was the same fact situation as State v. Ludwig, a Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion that interpreted an earlier version of the statute and concluded that an exemption for “bowling alleys” did not apply to a “barroom” that was under the same roof as a bowling alley.


The Court of Appeals began by comparing the fact situation in the present case to State v. Ludwig and found they differed. In Ludwig, the barroom was a distinct and separate place from the bowling alley, even though they were under the same roof and owned by the same person.

It then traced the changes in the statute since that case, including the legislature’s change in the statutory exception from “bowling alleys” to “bowling center.” Finally, it analyzed the exceptions within the statute and found the City of Stoughton’s reading would cause problems from a statutory interpretation perspective.

It concluded that Ludwig did not apply and the citations ran counter to the bowling center exception for minors being present where alcohol is served, affirming the circuit court and dismissing the citations against the bowling center owner and bartender.