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
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.
Subject to sub. (12)
, 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.
(12) Information relating to certain employees.
Unless access is specifically authorized or required by statute, an authority may not provide access to a record prepared or provided by an employer performing work on a project to which s. 16.856
applies, or on which the employer is otherwise required to pay prevailing wages, if that record contains the name or other personally identifiable information relating to an employee of that employer, unless the employee authorizes the authority to provide access to that information. In this subsection, “personally identifiable information" does not include an employee's work classification, hours of work, or wage or benefit payments received for work on such a project.
(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)
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. Sections 893.80
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.
A party seeking fees under sub. (2) must show that the prosecution of an action could reasonably be regarded as necessary to obtain the information and that a “causal nexus" exists between that action and the agency's surrender of the information. State ex rel. Vaughan v. Faust, 143 Wis. 2d 868
, 422 N.W.2d 898
(Ct. App. 1988).
If an agency exercises due diligence but is unable to respond timely to a records request, the plaintiff must show that a mandamus action was necessary to secure the records release to qualify for award of fees and costs under sub. (2). Racine Education Association. v. Racine Board of Education, 145 Wis. 2d 518
, 427 N.W.2d 414
(Ct. App. 1988).
Assuming sub. (1) (a) applies before mandamus is issued, the trial court retains discretion to refuse counsel's participation in an in camera
inspection. Milwaukee Journal v. Call, 153 Wis. 2d 313
, 450 N.W.2d 515
(Ct. App. 1989).
If the trial court has an incomplete knowledge of the contents of the public records sought, it must conduct an in camera
inspection to determine what may be disclosed following a custodian's refusal. State ex rel. Morke v. Donnelly, 155 Wis. 2d 521
, 455 N.W.2d 893
A pro se
litigant is not entitled to attorney fees. State ex rel. Young v. Shaw, 165 Wis. 2d 276
, 477 N.W.2d 340
(Ct. App. 1991).
A favorable judgment or order is not a necessary condition precedent for finding that a party prevailed against an agency under sub. (2). A causal nexus must be shown between the prosecution of the mandamus action and the release of the requested information. Eau Claire Press Co. v. Gordon, 176 Wis. 2d 154
, 499 N.W.2d 918
(Ct. App. 1993).
Actions brought under the open meetings and open records laws are exempt from the notice provisions of s. 893.80 (1), 1993 stats. Auchinleck v. Town of LaGrange, 200 Wis. 2d 585
, 547 N.W.2d 587
An inmate's right to mandamus under this section is subject to s. 801.02 (7), which requires exhaustion of administrative remedies before an action may be commenced. Moore v. Stahowiak, 212 Wis. 2d 744
, 569 N.W.2d 711
(Ct. App. 1997), 96-2547
When requests are complex, municipalities should be afforded reasonable latitude in time for their responses. An authority should not be subjected to the burden and expense of a premature public records lawsuit while it is attempting in good faith to respond, or to determine how to respond, to a request. What constitutes a reasonable time for a response by an authority depends on the nature of the request, the staff and other resources available to the authority to process the request, the extent of the request, and other related considerations. WIREdata, Inc. v. Village of Sussex, 2008 WI 69
, 310 Wis. 2d 397
, 751 N.W.2d 736
The legislature did not intend to allow a record requester to control or appeal a mandamus action brought by the attorney general under sub. (1) (b). Sub. (1) outlines two distinct courses of action when a records request is denied, dictates distinct courses of action, and prescribes different remedies for each course. Nothing suggests that a requester is hiring the attorney general as a sort of private counsel to proceed with the case, or that the requester would be a named plaintiff in the case with the attorney general appearing as counsel of record when proceeding under sub. (1) (b). State v. Zien, 2008 WI App 153
, 314 Wis. 2d 340
, 761 N.W.2d 15
This section unambiguously limits punitive damages claims under sub. (3) to mandamus actions. The mandamus court decides whether there is a violation and, if so, whether it caused actual damages. Then, the mandamus court may consider whether punitive damages should be awarded under sub. (3). The Capital Times Company v. Doyle, 2011 WI App 137
, 337 Wis. 2d 544
, 807 N.W.2d 666
Under the broad terms of s. 51.30 (7), the confidentiality requirements created under s. 51.30 generally apply to “treatment records" in criminal not guilty by reason of insanity cases. All conditional release plans in NGI cases are, by statutory definition, treatment records. They are “created in the course of providing services to individuals for mental illness," and thus should be deemed confidential. An order of placement in an NGI case is not a “treatment record." La Crosse Tribune v. Circuit Court for La Crosse County, 2012 WI App 42
, 340 Wis. 2d 663
, 814 N.W.2d 867
The plaintiff newspaper argued that s. 19.88 (3), of the open meetings law, which requires “the motions and roll call votes of each meeting of a governmental body shall be recorded, preserved and open to public inspection," in turn, required the defendant commission to record and disclose the information the newspaper requested under the open records law. The newspaper could not seek relief under the public records law for the commission's alleged violation of the open meetings law and could not recover reasonable attorney fees, damages, and other actual costs under sub. (2) for an alleged violation of the open meetings law. The Journal Times v. City of Racine Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, 2015 WI 56
, 362 Wis. 2d 577
, 866 N.W.2d 563
A record custodian should not automatically be subject to potential liability under sub. (2) (a) for actively providing information, which it is not required to do in response to a public records request, to a requester when no record exists. While it might be a better course to inform a requester that no record exists, the language of the public records law does not specifically require such a response. The Journal Times v. City of Racine Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, 2015 WI 56
, 362 Wis. 2d 577
, 866 N.W.2d 563
Actual damages are the liability of the agency. Punitive damages and forfeitures can be the liability of either the agency or the legal custodian, or both. Section 895.46 (1) (a) probably provides indemnification for punitive damages assessed against a custodian, but not for forfeitures. 72 Atty. Gen. 99
Interpretation by attorney general.
Any person may request advice from the attorney general as to the applicability of this subchapter under any circumstances. The attorney general may respond to such a request.
History: 1981 c. 335
CODE OF ETHICS FOR PUBLIC
OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES