Police Union’s Appeal Mooted By Officer’s Settlement

Melissa Ramskugler had passed Wisconsin’s requirements to qualify as a police officer, but was still in the probationary period required by the Milwaukee Board of Fire & Police Commissioners. Knee injuries prevented her from finishing probation. She was fired because her medical condition prevented her from getting through probation.

Wisconsin statutes have mandatory procedures for terminating police officers. But the Board, taking the position that Ramskugler was not a “member of the force” because she had not completed probation, did not follow the state statutory procedures when it let Ramskugler go. So she and the Milwaukee Police Association sued the Board for depriving her of property without due process.

The Board asked for, and was given summary judgment by the trial court against Ramskugler. She and the Police Association appealed. While the appeal was pending in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Ramskugler settled her dispute with the Board. The Police Association wanted to continue the appeal despite the settlement. So the settlement allowed the Police Association to continue the appeal in hopes of getting a declaration that the Board did not have authority to ignore the procedures set out in the Wisconsin statutes.

Before reaching the merits of the Police Association’s claims, the appellate court addressed whether the Association had standing in view of Rumskugler’s settlement. That boiled down to a question of whether the settlement mooted the Association’s lawsuit.

The appellate court ruled that the Police Association’s claims were moot because: “If she [Rumskugler] were to file suit today, she would lack standing because she does not have a redressable claim – her Settlement Agreement waived any sort of relief this court could grant her. Without establishing standing in her own right, Ramskugler cannot be used by the MPA [Association] to satisfy the first requirement of associational standing.”

Nor did this case fall into the mootness exception for “challenges to policies with a ‘continuing and brooding presence.’” This is how the court explained it:

To qualify for that mootness exception, the ongoing policy must “by its continuing and brooding presence, cast[] … a substantial adverse effect on the interests of the petitioning parties” … Nothing of that sort exists here. As discussed, the MPA has not proffered any other member who is faced with Ramskugler’s predicament. Further still, the MPA has not referenced someone who was in that position previously, which implies that Ramskugler was merely trapped in a sparsely populated limbo. The MPA has not even pled a single injury-in-fact. As such, the MPA has given us no reason to find the continuing policy of a “brooding presence” over it, much less one with a “substantial adverse effect.”

The appellate court dismissed the Association’s appeal as being moot. The opinion contains instructive discussion about the relationship between standing and mootness, and about ripeness and mootness. Read the whole opinion, Milwaukee Police Association v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners, No. 11-2314 (7th Cir. 2/26/13), by clicking here.