Understanding Alternative Dispute Resolution in Wisconsin: An Overview

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) offers a way for parties to resolve business disputes without going through a civil trial. ADR may take place before or after a lawsuit is filed. Many contracts, including construction, securities and Internet terms-of-service contracts, increasingly require ADR before or instead of trial. Generally speaking, courts have found these provisions enforceable.

The phrase “alternative dispute resolution” is an umbrella term covering several different types of proceedings. Direct negotiation, mediation and arbitration are the most popular forms of ADR. Although the rules differ for each, all three are intended to try to resolve a civil legal dispute without going to trial.

In Wisconsin, courts can order parties to participate in ADR. Wisconsin Statute Section 802.12(2) empowers Wisconsin Circuit Court judges to require ADR prior to trial. The parties generally are free to choose the type of ADR they wish to utilize and the ADR service provider, although the judge may make these decisions for the parties if they cannot agree.

Wisconsin judges cannot, however, require that the parties participate in the more expensive types of ADR, including non-binding arbitration, summary jury trials, or multiple facilitated ADR processes (such as both mediation and arbitration), without the parties consent.

Also, while a Wisconsin judge can require the parties to participate in ADR, he or she cannot require them to settle their dispute. In Gary v. Eggert, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that while Section 801.12 allows a judge to require some form of ADR before trial in appropriate cases, it does not allow the judge to require that the parties resolve the dispute, abandon one or more legal positions or settle out of court. The right to trial must remain available to the parties even if they are sent to ADR prior to trial.

Federal courts, including those in Wisconsin, also can order parties to participate in ADR.  28 U.S.C. 651(b) allows federal district court judges to authorize the use of ADR in civil actions and bankruptcy adversary proceedings. In the United State District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Local Rule 16(d) governs ADR considerations. In the United State District Court for the Western District Local Rule 3 (LR 16.6CJ) governs ADR.

If you have any questions, please contact attorney Grant C. Killoran at grant.killoran@wilaw.com or 414-276-5000.