Within 5 days after receipt of a notice under sub. (2) (a)
, a record subject may provide written notification to the authority of his or her intent to seek a court order restraining the authority from providing access to the requested record.
Within 10 days after receipt of a notice under sub. (2) (a)
, a record subject may commence an action seeking a court order to restrain the authority from providing access to the requested record. If a record subject commences such an action, the record subject shall name the authority as a defendant. Notwithstanding s. 803.09
, the requester may intervene in the action as a matter of right. If the requester does not intervene in the action, the authority shall notify the requester of the results of the proceedings under this subsection and sub. (5)
An authority shall not provide access to a requested record within 12 days of sending a notice pertaining to that record under sub. (2) (a)
. In addition, if the record subject commences an action under sub. (4)
, the authority shall not provide access to the requested record during pendency of the action. If the record subject appeals or petitions for review of a decision of the court or the time for appeal or petition for review of a decision adverse to the record subject has not expired, the authority shall not provide access to the requested record until any appeal is decided, until the period for appealing or petitioning for review expires, until a petition for review is denied, or until the authority receives written notice from the record subject that an appeal or petition for review will not be filed, whichever occurs first.
The court, in an action commenced under sub. (4)
, may restrain the authority from providing access to the requested record. The court shall apply substantive common law principles construing the right to inspect, copy, or receive copies of records in making its decision.
The court, in an action commenced under sub. (4)
, shall issue a decision within 10 days after the filing of the summons and complaint and proof of service of the summons and complaint upon the defendant, unless a party demonstrates cause for extension of this period. In any event, the court shall issue a decision within 30 days after those filings are complete.
If a party appeals a decision of the court under sub. (7)
, the court of appeals shall grant precedence to the appeal over all other matters not accorded similar precedence by law. An appeal shall be taken within the time period specified in s. 808.04 (1m)
Except as otherwise authorized or required by statute, if an authority decides under s. 19.35
to permit access to a record containing information relating to a record subject who is an officer or employee of the authority holding a local public office or a state public office, the authority shall, before permitting access and within 3 days after making the decision to permit access, serve written notice of that decision on the record subject, either by certified mail or by personally serving the notice on the record subject. The notice shall briefly describe the requested record and include a description of the rights of the record subject under par. (b)
Within 5 days after receipt of a notice under par. (a)
, a record subject may augment the record to be released with written comments and documentation selected by the record subject. Except as otherwise authorized or required by statute, the authority under par. (a)
shall release the record as augmented by the record subject.
History: 2003 a. 47
; 2011 a. 84
NOTE: 2003 Wis. Act 47
, which creates this section, contains extensive explanatory notes.
The right of a public employee to obtain de novo judicial review of an authority's decision to allow public access to certain records granted by this section is no broader than the common law right previously recognized. It is not a right to prevent disclosure solely on the basis of a public employee's privacy and reputational interests. The public's interest in not injuring the reputations of public employees must be given due consideration, but it is not controlling. Local 2489 v. Rock County, 2004 WI App 210
, 277 Wis. 2d 208
, 689 N.W.2d 644
An intervenor as of right under the statute is “a party" under sub. (8) whose appeal is subject to the “time period specified in s. 808.04 (1m)." The only time period referenced in s. 808.04 (1m) is 20 days. Zellner v. Herrick, 2009 WI 80
, 319 Wis. 2d 532
, 770 N.W.2d 305
This section does not set forth the only course of action that the subject of a disclosure may engage in to prevent disclosure. Subs. (3) and (4) state that “a record subject may commence an action." The plain language of the statute in no way discourages the subject of a records request from engaging in less litigious means to prevent disclosure nor does it prevent a records custodian from changing its mind. Ardell v. Milwaukee Board of School Directors, 2014 WI App 66
, 354 Wis. 2d 471
, 849 N.W.2d 894
For challenges to decisions by authorities under the public records law to release records, as opposed to decisions by authorities to withhold records, the legislature has precluded judicial review except in defined circumstances. The right-of-action provision under sub. (1) unambiguously bars any person from seeking judicial review of an authority's decision to release a record unless: 1) a provision within this section authorizes judicial review; or 2) a statute other than this section authorizes judicial review. Teague v. Van Hollen, 2016 WI App 20
, 367 Wis. 2d 547
, 877 N.W.2d 379
A district attorney is not an “employee" as defined in s. 19.32 (1bg) and as used in sub. (2) (a) 1. A district attorney may not maintain an action under sub. (4) to restrain an authority from providing access to requested records where the requested records do not fall within the sub. (2) (a) 1. exception to the general rule that a “record subject" is not entitled to notice or pre-release judicial review of the decision of an authority to provide access to records pertaining to that record subject. Moustakis v. Department of Justice, 2016 WI 42
, 368 Wis. 2d 677
, 880 N.W.2d 142
Sub. (5) applies to an “authority" and does not preclude a court from providing limited access to the requested records on an attorney's eyes-only basis for purposes of briefing a case before the court. Section 19.37 (1) (a), which applies when a party seeks release of records in an action for mandamus, provides guidance. Whether the action seeks release or an injunction, the need for limited review by a party who intervenes by right, in order to ensure fair and fully informed adjudication of the dispute, is equally applicable. Hagen v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, 2018 WI App 43
, 383 Wis. 2d 567
, 916 N.W.2d 198
Sub. (2) (a) 1. must be interpreted as requiring notification when an authority proposes to release records in its possession that are the result of an investigation by an employer into a disciplinary or other employment matter involving an employee, but not when there has been an investigation of possible employment-related violation by the employee and the investigation is conducted by some entity other than the employee's employer. OAG 1-06
Sub. (2) (a) 2. is unambiguous. If an authority has obtained a record through a subpoena or a search warrant, it must provide the requisite notice before releasing the records. The duty to notify, however, does not require notice to every record subject who happens to be named in the subpoena or search warrant records. Under sub. (2) (a), DCI must serve written notice of the decision to release the record to any record subject to whom the record pertains. OAG 1-06
To the extent any requested records proposed to be released are records prepared by a private employer and those records contain information pertaining to one of the private employer's employees, sub. (2) (a) 3. does not allow release of the information without obtaining authorization from the individual employee. OAG 1-06
Sub. (9) does not require advance notification and a 5-day delay before releasing a record that mentions the name of a person holding state or local public office in any way. A record mentioning the name of a public official does not necessarily relate to that public official within the meaning of sub. (9) (a). Sub. (9) is not limited, however, to the specific categories of records enumerated in sub. (2) (a). OAG 7-14
The use of the phrase “is created” in sub. (2) (a) 1. implies that the status of the record subject should be consistent with when the record was created. Therefore, if the record subject is an employee at the time the record is created, he or she is entitled to notice even if the employee is no longer employed by the authority at the time the authority receives the request. OAG 2-18
Sub. (9) does not apply when a record contains information relating to a record subject who is an officer or employee who formerly held a local or state public office. The provision only applies when an officer or employee of the authority currently holds a local or state public office. OAG 2-18
Should service fail in the manner specifically required in subs. (2) (a) 1. and (9) (a), after reasonable diligence, the alternatives to personal service in s. 801.11 may be used to provide notice to record subjects. Section 801.11 (1) appears reasonable and consistent with the public records law's purposes with the exception of the publication requirement. An authority may leave a copy of the notice at the record subject's usual place of abode in a manner substantially similar to s. 801.11(1) (b). If the record subject's usual place of abode cannot be located after reasonable diligence, an authority may leave a copy of the notice at the record subject's usual place of business in a matter substantially similar to s. 801.11 (4) (b). If, after reasonable diligence, the authority is unable to effectuate service according to the public records law's provisions and other alternatives to personal service that are consistent with the public records law's purpose, the authority may release the records. OAG 2-18
Limitations upon access and withholding. 19.36(1)(1)
Application of other laws.
Any record which is specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal law or authorized to be exempted from disclosure by state law is exempt from disclosure under s. 19.35 (1)
, except that any portion of that record which contains public information is open to public inspection as provided in sub. (6)
(2) Law enforcement records.
Except as otherwise provided by law, whenever federal law or regulations require or as a condition to receipt of aids by this state require that any record relating to investigative information obtained for law enforcement purposes be withheld from public access, then that information is exempt from disclosure under s. 19.35 (1)
(3) Contractors' records.
Each authority shall make available for inspection and copying under s. 19.35 (1)
any record produced or collected under a contract entered into by the authority with a person other than an authority to the same extent as if the record were maintained by the authority. This subsection does not apply to the inspection or copying of a record under s. 19.35 (1) (am)
(4) Computer programs and data.
A computer program, as defined in s. 16.971 (4) (c)
, is not subject to examination or copying under s. 19.35 (1)
, but the material used as input for a computer program or the material produced as a product of the computer program is subject to the right of examination and copying, except as otherwise provided in s. 19.35
or this section.
(5) Trade secrets.
An authority may withhold access to any record or portion of a record containing information qualifying as a trade secret as defined in s. 134.90 (1) (c)
(6) Separation of information.
If a record contains information that is subject to disclosure under s. 19.35 (1) (a)
and information that is not subject to such disclosure, the authority having custody of the record shall provide the information that is subject to disclosure and delete the information that is not subject to disclosure from the record before release.
(7) Identities of applicants for public positions. 19.36(7)(a)1.
“Final candidate" means each applicant who is seriously considered for appointment or whose name is certified for appointment, and whose name is submitted for final consideration to an authority for appointment, to any of the following:
A state position that is not a position in the classified service and that is not a position in the University of Wisconsin System.
The position of president, vice president, or senior vice president of the University of Wisconsin System; the position of chancellor of an institution; or the position of the vice chancellor who serves as deputy at each institution.
“Final candidate" includes all of the following, but only with respect to the offices and positions described under subd. 1. a.
Whenever there are at least 5 applicants for an office or position, each of the 5 applicants who are considered the most qualified for the office or position by an authority.
Whenever there are fewer than 5 applicants for an office or position, each applicant.
Whenever an appointment is to be made from a group of more than 5 applicants considered the most qualified for an office or position by an authority, each applicant in that group.
Every applicant for a position with any authority may indicate in writing to the authority that the applicant does not wish the authority to reveal his or her identity. Except with respect to an applicant whose name is certified for appointment to a position in the state classified service or a final candidate, if an applicant makes such an indication in writing, the authority shall not provide access to any record related to the application that may reveal the identity of the applicant.
(8) Identities of law enforcement informants. 19.36(8)(a)1.
“Informant" means an individual who requests confidentiality from a law enforcement agency in conjunction with providing information to that agency or, pursuant to an express promise of confidentiality by a law enforcement agency or under circumstances in which a promise of confidentiality would reasonably be implied, provides information to a law enforcement agency or, is working with a law enforcement agency to obtain information, related in any case to any of the following:
Another person who the individual or the law enforcement agency suspects has violated, is violating or will violate a federal law, a law of any state or an ordinance of any local government.
Past, present or future activities that the individual or law enforcement agency believes may violate a federal law, a law of any state or an ordinance of any local government.
If an authority that is a law enforcement agency receives a request to inspect or copy a record or portion of a record under s. 19.35 (1) (a)
that contains specific information including but not limited to a name, address, telephone number, voice recording or handwriting sample which, if disclosed, would identify an informant, the authority shall delete the portion of the record in which the information is contained or, if no portion of the record can be inspected or copied without identifying the informant, shall withhold the record unless the legal custodian of the record, designated under s. 19.33
, makes a determination, at the time that the request is made, that the public interest in allowing a person to inspect, copy or receive a copy of such identifying information outweighs the harm done to the public interest by providing such access.
(9) Records of plans or specifications for state buildings.
Records containing plans or specifications for any state-owned or state-leased building, structure or facility or any proposed state-owned or state-leased building, structure or facility are not subject to the right of inspection or copying under s. 19.35 (1)
except as the department of administration otherwise provides by rule.
(10) Employee personnel records.
Unless access is specifically authorized or required by statute, an authority shall not provide access under s. 19.35 (1)
to records containing the following information, except to an employee or the employee's representative to the extent required under s. 103.13
or to a recognized or certified collective bargaining representative to the extent required to fulfill a duty to bargain under ch. 111
or pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement under ch. 111
Information maintained, prepared, or provided by an employer concerning the home address, home electronic mail address, home telephone number, or social security number of an employee, unless the employee authorizes the authority to provide access to such information.
Information relating to the current investigation of a possible criminal offense or possible misconduct connected with employment by an employee prior to disposition of the investigation.
Information pertaining to an employee's employment examination, except an examination score if access to that score is not otherwise prohibited.
Information relating to one or more specific employees that is used by an authority or by the employer of the employees for staff management planning, including performance evaluations, judgments, or recommendations concerning future salary adjustments or other wage treatments, management bonus plans, promotions, job assignments, letters of reference, or other comments or ratings relating to employees.
(11) Records of an individual holding a local public office or a state public office.
Unless access is specifically authorized or required by statute, an authority shall not provide access under s. 19.35 (1)
to records, except to an individual to the extent required under s. 103.13
, containing information maintained, prepared, or provided by an employer concerning the home address, home electronic mail address, home telephone number, or social security number of an individual who holds a local public office or a state public office, unless the individual authorizes the authority to provide access to such information. This subsection does not apply to the home address of an individual who holds an elective public office or to the home address of an individual who, as a condition of employment, is required to reside in a specified location.
(13) Financial identifying information.
An authority shall not provide access to personally identifiable information that contains an individual's account or customer number with a financial institution, as defined in s. 134.97 (1) (b)
, including credit card numbers, debit card numbers, checking account numbers, or draft account numbers, unless specifically required by law.
NOTE: 2003 Wis. Act 47
, which affects this section, contains extensive explanatory notes.
A settlement agreement containing a pledge of confidentiality and kept in the possession of a school district's attorney was a public record subject to public access under sub. (3). Journal/Sentinel v. School District of Shorewood, 186 Wis. 2d 443
, 521 N.W.2d 165
(Ct. App. 1994).
Sub. (3) does not require providing access to payroll records of subcontractors of a prime contractor of a public construction project. Building and Construction Trades Council v. Waunakee Community School District, 221 Wis. 2d 575
, 585 N.W.2d 726
(Ct. App. 1999), 97-3282
Production of an analog audio tape was insufficient under sub. (4) when the requester asked for examination and copying of the original digital audio tape. State ex rel. Milwaukee Police Association v. Jones, 2000 WI App 146
, 237 Wis. 2d 840
, 615 N.W.2d 190
The ultimate purchasers of municipal bonds from the bond's underwriter, whose only obligation was to purchase the bonds, were not contractor's records under sub. (3). Machotka v. Village of West Salem, 2000 WI App 43
, 233 Wis. 2d 106
, 607 N.W.2d 319
Requests for university admissions records focusing on test scores, class rank, grade point average, race, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background was not a request for personally identifiable information and release was not barred by federal law or public policy. That the requests would require the university to redact information from thousands of documents under s. 19.36 (6) did not essentially require the university to create new records and, as such, did not provide grounds for denying the request under s. 19.35 (1) (L). Osborn v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, 2002 WI 83
, 254 Wis. 2d 266
, 647 N.W.2d 158
Misconduct investigation and disciplinary records are not excepted from public disclosure under sub. (10) (d). Sub. (10) (b) is the only exception to the open records law relating to investigations of possible employee misconduct. Kroeplin v. DNR, 2006 WI App 227
, 297 Wis. 2d 254
, 725 N.W.2d 286
“Investigation" in sub. (10) (b) includes only that conducted by the public authority itself as a prelude to possible employee disciplinary action. An investigation achieves its “disposition" when the authority acts to impose discipline on an employee as a result of the investigation, regardless of whether the employee elects to pursue grievance arbitration or another review mechanism that may be available. Local 2489 v. Rock County, 2004 WI App 210
, 277 Wis. 2d 208
, 689 N.W.2d 644
. See also, Zellner v. Cedarburg School District, 2007 WI 53
, 300 Wis. 2d 290
, 731 N.W.2d 240
Municipalities may not avoid liability under the open records law by contracting with independent contractor assessors for the collection, maintenance, and custody of property assessment records, and then directing any requester of those records to the independent contractor assessors. WIREdata, Inc. v. Village of Sussex, 2008 WI 69
, 310 Wis. 2d 397
, 751 N.W.2d 736
When requests to municipalities were for electronic/digital copies of assessment records, “PDF" files were “electronic/digital" files despite the fact that the files did not have all the characteristics that the requester wished. It is not required that requesters must be given access to an authority's electronic databases to examine them, extract information from them, or copy them. Allowing requesters such direct access to the electronic databases of an authority would pose substantial risks. WIREdata, Inc. v. Village of Sussex, 2008 WI 69
, 310 Wis. 2d 397
, 751 N.W.2d 736
By procuring a liability insurance policy and allowing the insurance company to retain counsel for it, the county in effect contracted with the law firm and created an attorney-client relationship. Because the liability insurance policy is the basis for the tripartite relationship between the county, insurance company, and law firm and is the basis for an attorney-client relationship between the law firm and county, the invoices produced or collected during the course of the law firm's representation of the county come under the liability insurance policy and sub. (3) governs the accessibility of the invoices. Juneau County Star-Times v. Juneau County, 2013 WI 4
, 345 Wis. 2d 122
, 824 N.W.2d 457
Responding to a public records request is not a “function" of the police department for purposes of the “agency functions" exception to the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, which allows disclosure of personal information from state motor vehicle records for use by a government agency in carrying out its functions. New Richmond News v. City of New Richmond, 2016 WI App 43
, 370 Wis. 2d 75
, 881 N.W.2d 339
Under subs. (1) and (2), any record specifically exempted from disclosure pursuant to federal law also is exempt from disclosure under Wisconsin law. Federal regulations preclude release of any information pertaining to individuals detained in a state or local facility, and federal immigration detainer (I-247) forms contain only such information. Read together, subs. (1) and (2) and 8 C.F.R. § 236.6 exempt I-247 forms from release under Wisconsin public records law and the forms are not subject to common-law exemptions or the public interest balancing test. Voces de la Frontera, Inc. v. Clarke, 2017 WI 16
, 373 Wis. 2d 348
, 891 N.W.2d 803
A computerized compilation of bibliographic records is discussed in relation to copyright law; a requester is entitled to a copy of a computer tape or a printout of information on the tape. 75 Atty. Gen. 133
An exemption to the federal Freedom of Information Act was not incorporated under sub. (1). 77 Atty. Gen. 20
Sub. (7), 2011 stats., is an exception to the public records law and should be narrowly construed. In sub. (7), 2011 stats., “applicant" and “candidate" are synonymous. “Final candidates" are the five most qualified unless there are less than five applicants, in which case all are final candidates. 81 Atty. Gen. 37
Public access to law enforcement records. Fitzgerald. 68 MLR 705 (1985).
Enforcement and penalties. 19.37(1)(1)
If an authority withholds a record or a part of a record or delays granting access to a record or part of a record after a written request for disclosure is made, the requester may pursue either, or both, of the alternatives under pars. (a)
The requester may bring an action for mandamus asking a court to order release of the record. The court may permit the parties or their attorneys to have access to the requested record under restrictions or protective orders as the court deems appropriate.
The requester may, in writing, request the district attorney of the county where the record is found, or request the attorney general, to bring an action for mandamus asking a court to order release of the record to the requester. The district attorney or attorney general may bring such an action.
(1m) Time for commencing action.
No action for mandamus under sub. (1)
to challenge the denial of a request for access to a record or part of a record may be commenced by any committed or incarcerated person later than 90 days after the date that the request is denied by the authority having custody of the record or part of the record.
(1n) Notice of claim.
do not apply to actions commenced under this section.
Except as provided in this paragraph, the court shall award reasonable attorney fees, damages of not less than $100, and other actual costs to the requester if the requester prevails in whole or in substantial part in any action filed under sub. (1)
relating to access to a record or part of a record under s. 19.35 (1) (a)
. If the requester is a committed or incarcerated person, the requester is not entitled to any minimum amount of damages, but the court may award damages. Costs and fees shall be paid by the authority affected or the unit of government of which it is a part, or by the unit of government by which the legal custodian under s. 19.33
is employed and may not become a personal liability of any public official.
In any action filed under sub. (1)
relating to access to a record or part of a record under s. 19.35 (1) (am)
, if the court finds that the authority acted in a willful or intentional manner, the court shall award the individual actual damages sustained by the individual as a consequence of the failure.
(3) Punitive damages.
If a court finds that an authority or legal custodian under s. 19.33
has arbitrarily and capriciously denied or delayed response to a request or charged excessive fees, the court may award punitive damages to the requester.
Any authority which or legal custodian under s. 19.33
who arbitrarily and capriciously denies or delays response to a request or charges excessive fees may be required to forfeit not more than $1,000. Forfeitures under this section shall be enforced by action on behalf of the state by the attorney general or by the district attorney of any county where a violation occurs. In actions brought by the attorney general, the court shall award any forfeiture recovered together with reasonable costs to the state; and in actions brought by the district attorney, the court shall award any forfeiture recovered together with reasonable costs to the county.