Case law

Case law

Open Records Cases

Adell v Sullivan (Court of Appeals, 1997) Denying damages and costs to a prison inmate who alleged the Racine Correctional Institute withheld documents and responded too slowly to a request for records.
Atlas Transit v Korte (Court of Appeals, 2001) Upholding lower court’s balancing of interests in favor of a school system’s release of bus driver names and license numbers in response to an open record request.
Auchinleck v LaGrange (Wisconsin Supreme Court, 1996) Individuals need not file a notice of claim under § 893.80 before seeking enforcement action under the state’s open meetings or record laws.  (That rule is now codified in statute, see Wis. Stat. 19.37(1n); 19.97(5).)
Bacon v Osty (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court’s refusal to order a court reporter to provide an inmate with trial transcripts.
Bausch v Husz (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) Denying damages to an inmate whose request for a tape went unanswered until he filed court action. The appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that there was no willful or intentional withholding of material, only negligence.
Bergmann v Faust (Court of Appeals, 1999) Upholding lower court’s refusal to order portions of parole file to be released to inmate while limiting court filing costs for inmates to no greater than the amount in their prison accounts.
Blum v Board of Education (Court of Appeals, 1997) Upholding lower court’s denial of access to interim grade reports requested by a student who was denied a scholarship. The school district’s failure to specify reasons for denial did not warrant subsequent disclosure because the grade reports are pupil records statutorily exempted from disclosure.
Borzych v Paluszcyk (Court of Appeals, 1996) Overturning a lower court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against a sheriff’s inspector who required a requester to prepay $1.29 for a jail mugshot. The statute allows for a requirement of prepayment for costs exceeding $5.
Brown v Ennis (Court of Appeals, 1998) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding the rejection of a records request from prison inmates because the request did not adequately describe the records sought.
Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin v Waunakee Community School District (Court of Appeals, 1998) A school district cannot be compelled to turn over records it does not maintain in the context of a request made for payroll information about a sub-contractor’s employees for a school building project.
Dietzen v Hardt (Court of Appeals, 1995) (Unpublished Decision)The state’s open records and meetings law do not require the secrecy of records generated in the workplace in the context of an employee dispute.
ECO v City of Elkhorn (Court of Appeals, 2002) A request that mistakenly refers to the federal Freedom of Information Act but has all the “earmarks” of an open records request must at a minimum require a response.
Fobbs v Arreola (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) A trial court did not err in determining that no overriding interest existed to deny a request for police reports from a closed sexual assault case.
Fox v Bock (Supreme Court, 1989) Articulates standards for determining whether a record is a “draft” exempt from disclosure under the public records law.
Gainer v Lockwood (Court of Appeals, 2000) (Unpublished Decision) When a prison inmate petitions the court after being denied access to records on the grounds that the records do not mention the inmate, a judge must conduct an in camera inspection of the documents.
George v Record Custodian (Court of Appeals, 1995) An inmate could not seek costs against prison officials because they adequately responded to his request.
GPS v Town of St. Germain (Court of Appeals, 2001) (Unpublished Decision) When documents are specifically exempted from the open records law, a balancing of interests is not required to determine whether records should be released.
Hathaway v Green Bay School District (Supreme Court, 1984) A school district’s computerized mailing list of parents and students is a public record under the state’s public records law and not exempt under student privacy laws.
HD Enterprises v. City of Stoughton (Court of Appeals, 1999) The word “licenses” was specific enough on a meeting agenda to apprise the public of the subject matter of a meeting that reviewed liquor license applications.
Hempel v Baraboo (Supreme Court, 2005) A police officer investigated for sexual harassment does not have the right to inspect unredacted records related to an internal police investigation.
Hill v Zimmerman (Court of Appeals, 1995) Upholding lower court’s rejection of a writ of mandamus from prison inmate after correction officials denied access to pre-sentencing report and required inmate to pre-pay for copies of other documents.
Hubert v Town of Menasha Police Department (Court of Appeals, 1999) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court’s ruling that reduced damages in mandamus action after local government failed to respond to records request and that required pre-payment for copies of records.
Jelks v Arreola (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court’s determination to release police reports to an attorney, under promises of secrecy, in an unsolved murder investigation.
Jensen v School District of Rhinelander (Court of Appeals, 2002) A district court did not err in rejecting a superintendent’s intervening action to stop the release of a his performance evaluation. The court upheld the balancing of interests in favor of disclosure, noting that media reports of the superintendent’s administrative leave had diminished his reputational interests in the balancing of interests.  (Superseded by statute in 2003, see Wis. Stat. 19.356.)
Jones v Swoboda (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court’s rejection of petition from inmate seeking recourse after prison officials required pre-payment for copies of records and subsequently destroyed them as part of its normal record-keeping process.
Journal/Sentinel, Inc. v Arreola (Court of Appeals, 1996) The public’s right to scrutinize portions of reports regarding police use of deadly force outweighs individual officers’ privacy interests.
Journal/Sentinel, Inc. v Aagerup (Court of Appeals, 1988) The needs of an ongoing criminal investigation outweigh the public interest of full disclosure of autopsy report. The court used a two-step process for reviewing lower court decisions: whether requisite specificity was given in denying access, and whether the stated reasons for denial were sufficient for withholding.
Journal/Sentinel, Inc. v School Bd. of Shorewood (Court of Appeals, 1994) A governmental body may not avoid public access by delegating the record’s creation and custody to a third party, including attorneys.
Kailin v Rainwater (Court of Appeals, 1999) Upholding lower court’s judgment in favor of releasing investigative report regarding allegations against a school principal. The court correctly applied the balancing test in favor of disclosure and did not err in considering newspaper accounts to conclude that the principal’s reputational interests had diminished.
Keith v Ridgely (Court of Appeals, 1998) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding the denial of three requests by prison inmate, based on non-existence of documents, erroneous requests and balancing of interests.
Klein v Wisconsin Resource Center (Court of Appeals, 1998) Upholding lower court ruling supporting the denial of personnel records of an employee of a state prison facility to two men being held as sexually violent persons.
Kraemer Brothers v Dane County (Court of Appeals, 1999) The names of employees of a private company contracted by a county government should be withheld from public disclosure because their privacy interests outweigh any public interest in disclosure.
Ledford v Turcotte (Court of Appeals, 1997) Requester can be granted legal fees in a records dispute even though represented himself in the early stages of court action and only hired an attorney after the case was being appealed to the Supreme Court.
Linzmeyer v Forcey (Supreme Court, 2002) Upholding the release of a police report detailing allegations of misconduct by a teacher that did not result in any charges or disciplinary action. The court discussed the criteria courts should use to determine when public interests in disclosure outweigh public interests in non-disclosure.
Machotka v Village of West Salem (Court of Appeals, 2000) A requester is not entitled to the names of ultimate purchases of municipal bonds because they are not among records kept by the village and do not fall under the “contractor’s records” provision of the open records law.
Marder v Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System (Court of Appeals, 1999) (Unpublished Decision) In upholding the release of several items in a professor’s personnel file, the court ruled the public’s interest in knowing how a public university investigates allegations of professorial misconduct outweighs the reputational interests of the professor.
McCoy v Board of Fire and Police Commissioner for the City of Milwaukee (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) Overruling in part a lower court’s decision to grant partial access to a police sergeant’s test and answers to a police officer who failed the test. The appeals court ruled that the public policy interests in preserving confidentiality of the test outweighed the officer’s interests in reviewing the materials.
Milwaukee Journal v Call (Court of Appeal, 1989) In order to uphold denial of access, a trial court must thoroughly scrutinize reasons for denying access to records of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Milwaukee Journal v UW Board of Regents (Court of Appeals, 1991) A state law permitting a state agency to keep names of job applicants confidential is not an automatic exemption to the state public records law and cannot alone be relied upon for denial of access to the names.
Milwaukee Police Association v Jones (Court of Appeals, 2000) A revised open records request seeking a digital audio recording of a 911 call was not satisfied by an analog copy of the same recording.
Milwaukee Teachers v Milwaukee Board (Supreme Court, 1999) In expanding its Woznicki decision to cases other than district attorney records, the court ruled that public employees who intervene to stop the release of personnel information have the right to a judicial review of the record custodian’s decision to release the information.  (Superseded by statute in 2003, see Wis. Stat. 19.356.)
Moore v Stahowiak (Court of Appeals, 1997) Upholding lower court ruling requiring an inmate to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking a writ of mandamus under the state’s open records law.
Moustakis v Wisconsin Department of Justice (Court of Appeals, 2014)   District attorneys cannot seek to block release of records regarding disciplinary investigations.
Munroe v Braatz (Court of Appeals, 1996) Upholding a lower court’s ruling as insufficient the state’s rationale for denying access to examination scores for a medical doctor. The court ordered the scores be released after conducting a balancing of interests.
Newspapers, Inc. v Breier (Supreme Court, 1979) Possible damage to an arrested person’s reputation does not outweigh the public interest in allowing inspection of police records that show the arrest charges. The police “blotter” shall be open for public inspection at any time when the custodian’s office is open.
Nichols v Bennett (Supreme Court, 1996) In revisiting its decision in Foust that exempts prosecutorial files from the open records law, the court decides that letters to a district attorney requesting public documents are not part of “prosecutorial files” even if they’re physically located there.
Osborn v Board of Regents (Supreme Court, 2002) In ordering a public university must release non-identifying information about students applicants, the court reversed an appeals court decision finding the information was exempt under federal law.
Racine Education Association v Racine Unified School District (Court of Appeals, 1986) Upholding decision by a lower court to release some, but not all, records related to disciplinary memos to school administrators.
Reimann v Poliak (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court’s decision rejecting petition for writ of mandamus by an inmate who was required to pay 30-cents before obtaining two pages of records but was subsequently allowed to view them.
Reimann v Topp (Court of Appeals, 1995) (Unpublished Decision) Declining to issue a writ of mandamus to an inmate who requested records from a sheriff’s office; the sheriff’s office sent the files to another sheriff’s office after receiving the request and then claimed they were no longer in its possession and were part of an active investigation by another agency.
Richards v. Foust (Supreme Court, 1991) District Attorneys’ prosecutorial records are exempt from the public records law.
Schopper v Gehring (Court of Appeals, 1997) Upholding a lower court’s dismissal of a civil action after a county rejected a request for three hours of 911 calls because it lacked a reasonable limitation as to the subject and length of time for the records requested.
Schultz v Wellens (Court of Appeals, 1997) A humane society, while not an “authority” as defined in the open records law, must nonetheless disclose records of dog impoundments in part because another statute states the records are “public records.”
State v Flynn (Court of Appeals, 1999) (Unpublished Decision) upholding lower court’s ruling that an inmate’s request for documents after she could no longer appeal her case was not exempt from copying fees, despite a policy allowing copying fees to be waived “in the public interest.”
State v McGrew (Court of Appeals, 2002) (Unpublished Decision) Appeals court declines to apply the open records law to a case involving the destruction of a videotape of a traffic stop, in the context of an appeal of a traffic court conviction.
State v Panknin (Court of Appeals, 1998) An inmate cannot have access to notes taken by a judge during sentencing because ” irreversible harm would be done to the judicial process by opening the private notes of the court to litigants.”
State v Thomas (Court of Appeals, 1997) (Unpublished Decision) upholding lower court’s ruling denying access to a corrections officer’s personnel file by an inmate alleging racial discrimination after he was caught in a drug-dealing operation inside the prison.
Steigerwaldt v Town of King (Court of Appeals, 1996) (Unpublished Decision) upholding ruling that found a town clerk’s personal recording of a statement at a town board meeting was not a public record, but that other violations of the open records law allowed the requester to receive attorney’s costs.
Toles v Lanser (Court of Appeals, 1997) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court’s decision to release some documents to a prison inmate upon request, but requiring pre-payment for the majority of documents.
Town of LaGrange v Auchinleck (Court of Appeals, 1997) Ruing that a police chief is the legal custodian of records despite unsuccessful attempts to remove his authority by a town board.
Tratz v Zunker (Court of Appeals, 1996) Reversing lower court decision denying access to internal complaint documents by a prison complainant, in part on grounds that the custodian failed to give adequate reasons for denial.
Weiss v City of Milwaukee (Supreme Court, 1997) An public employee whose address was improperly disclosed to an abusive husband cannot file a civil action alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress but must file claims under the Worker’s Compensation Act.
Weissenberger v Kellberg (Court of Appeals, 1998) (Unpublished Decision) Denying costs and damages to an inmate after he received records only after a writ of mandamus was issued. The court applied a two-part test it used to determine when one can receive costs and damages for a mandamus action. “First, he must show that the mandamus action was reasonably necessary to obtain the information. … Second, he must show a “causal nexus” between the mandamus action and the department’s surrender of the list.”
Weissenberger v Watters (Court of Appeals, 1998) (Unpublished Decision) denying costs and damages because complainant had not established a “casual nexus” between a mandamus action and the release of records.
Weissenberger v Zebro (Court of Appeals, 1999) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court’s decision to deny access records of names of law enforcement officers upon request from a person committed as a violent sexual offender.
Wiggins v Butorac (Court of Appeals, 2000) (Unpublished Decision) Upholding lower court decision overturning a police chief’s decision to keep secret police reports about a traffic stop. The court disagreed with the chief’s balancing of public interests in favor of non-disclosure and detailed why the chief’s seven reasons for non-disclosure were inadequate.
Willan v Brereton (Court of Appeals, 2000) (Unpublished Decision) In a dispute over whether a candidate for office has standing to request a recount because of a prior felony conviction, the court noted that the candidate could show no exemption of the open records law applied to the conviction information.
Willan v Columbia County (Court of Appeals, 2000) (Unpublished Decision) Court upholds lower court ruling denying costs and damages in open records request, even though “the court concluded that Willan’s mandamus action could reasonably be regarded as necessary, but that there was no causal nexus between his action and the County’s release of records.”
Willan v Rowe (Court of Appeals, 2001) (Unpublished Decision) Overturning lower court’s dismissal of a mandamus action because there was no factual inquiry into whether the records were obtained by the requester despite the custodian’s claims that the records had been obtained by other means.
Wisconsin Newspress v Sch. Dist. of Sheboygan Falls (Supreme Court, 1996) The court, in ruling there is no blanket exemption in the open records law for public employee personnel records, assessed whether a custodian provided the requisite specificity in denying access and whether the stated reasons are sufficient to justify withholding documents. The court decided that the public policy interests in knowing about public official misconduct outweighed the public interests of non-dislosure.
Wisconsin State Journal v UW-Platteville (Court of Appeals, 1990) The public’s interest in access to records about a faculty dispute outweighs public interest in non-disclosure.
Woznicki v Erickson (Supreme Court, 1996) Holding that while public employee personnel records are not automatically exempt from the open records law, the subjects of the records, because of privacy and reputational interests, have the right to a court review prior to records being released.  (Superseded by statute in 2003, see Wis. Stat. 19.356.)
WTMJ v Sullivan (Court of Appeals, 1996) Determining that the state denied a record request even though it later decided to release the records, entitling the requesters to their attorney fees.
Zellner v Cedarburg School District (Supreme Court, 2007) Rejecting arguments that copyright prohibited release of records and upholding lower court’s decision to release pornographic images downloaded on a teacher’s computer.

Open Meetings Cases

Auchinleck v LaGrange (Wisconsin Supreme Court, 1996) Individuals need not file a notice of claim under § 893.80 before seeking enforcement action under the state’s open meetings or record laws.  (That rule is now codified in statute, see Wis. Stat. 19.37(1n); 19.97(5).)
Badke v. Village Board of the Village of Greendale (Wisconsin Supreme Court, 1993) When a majority of village board members participate in a committee meeting, this constitutes a “meeting” of the village board, unless the gathering is “social” or “by chance.”
Blonien v Fleischman (Court of Appeals, 1997) (Unpublished Decision) Overturning a lower court’s ruling that dismissed an open meetings lawsuit because the plaintiff didn’t file a notice of claim, applying the Supreme Court’s Auchinleck ruling retroactively.
Buswell v Tomah Area School District (Supreme Court, 2007) Articulates the necessary specificity required for agendas of meetings of governmental bodies.
Dietzen v Hardt (Court of Appeals, 1995) (Unpublished Decision)The state’s open records and meetings law do not require the secrecy of records generated in the workplace in the context of an employee dispute.
Hodge v. Town of Turtle Lake (Supreme Court, 1993) A town board of supervisors erred in meeting in closed session to discuss a permit for junk-car storage.
Hodge v Town of Turtle Lake (Court of Appeals, 1994) Calculation of reasonable attorney fees can include the government entity’s ability to pay.
Journal/Sentinel, Inc. v Pleva (Supreme Court, 1990) Members of the public have standing to challenge a non-profit group’s non-compliance with a city contract requiring the group to follow the open meetings law.
Newspapers, Inc. v Showers (Supreme Court, 1987) The open meetings law applies to meetings of government officials, even absent a majority of members, if the number of members present are sufficient to determine the parent body’s course of action.
Ward v Town of Nashville (Court of Appeals, 2001) (Unpublished Decision) Because the complainant failed to timely appeal a summary judgment, the court of appeals declines to decide whether a series of closed meetings that led to the approval of a mining contract negated the agreement.

Unpublished decisions issued before July 1, 2009 are not precedential authority for future cases and cannot be cited in any Wisconsin Court.  See Wis. Stat. 809.23(3).  They are included here for informational purposes only.