In Eagle Cove Camp & Conference Center, Inc. v. County of Oneida (2018AP940), the Court of Appeals District III held that claim preclusion barred most of the plaintiff’s claims against the County and the Town of Woodboro, and the court awarded the Town damages because the action was frivolous.
Eagle Cove sought a conditional use permit to build a Bible camp in Woodboro on property currently zoned as residential. The County accepted the Town’s recommendation to deny Eagle Cove’s conditional use permit application. (The Town itself did not have jurisdiction over the zoning of the property.)
Eagle Cove subsequently filed an action in federal court against the County and Town, claiming violation of the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act, as well as Equal Protection Clause and First Amendment violations. Eagle Cove also alleged violations of the right to freedom to worship under the Wisconsin state constitution and sought certiorari review by the federal court of the County’s decision.
The federal court dismissed Eagle Cove’s federal claims because Eagle Cove failed to meet the burden of proof for any of the claims. The federal court also dismissed Eagle Cover’s state constitutional claims with prejudice. However, the federal court dismissed the certiorari claim without prejudice.
Eagle Cove later filed the instant lawsuit in state court, seeking not only the certiorari claim that the federal court had allowed to proceed, but also fifteen additional state constitutional claims. The County and Town argued that claim preclusion barred the fifteen new claims.
The state appeals court agreed that claim preclusion barred the fifteen additional claims. The claims met the three required elements of claim preclusion:
- Identity of parties. It was undisputed that Eagle Cove and the County and Town were the same parties in both the federal and state lawsuit.
- Final judgment. The court rejected Eagle Cove’s argument that claim preclusion did not apply because the federal district court did not dispose of the entire case. The court also rejected the argument that the federal and state actions are one “case,” making claim preclusion inapplicable.
- Identity of causes of action. Eagle Cove’s federal and state causes of action arise from the same set of facts. Furthermore, both the federal and state actions bring claims of violations of the Wisconsin Constitution Art. I § 18, religious liberty claims, and equal protection claims.
The state appeals court further agreed with federal courts that new case law did not permit Eagle Cove to reopen the federal judgment.
Finally, the court found that Eagle Cove’s inclusion of the Town in this action was frivolous because all the claims against the town were precluded. The Town was not part of the certiorari claim because the County, not the Town, had jurisdiction of Eagle Cove’s conditional use permit application. Therefore, Eagle Cove’s inclusion of the Town in this lawsuit was frivolous, and the court awarded damages to the Town accordingly.
After this court of appeals decision, the only claim left for Eagle Cove to litigate is its certiorari claim against the County.