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Notice requirement does not apply to openness suits

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Notice requirement does not apply to openness suits06/03/96 WISCONSIN--The state's highest court in early May ruled that claims under Wisconsin's…

Notice requirement does not apply to openness suits

06/03/96

WISCONSIN–The state’s highest court in early May ruled that claims under Wisconsin’s open meetings and open records laws are unaffected by notice requirements for other types of suits against the government.

The decision overturned an earlier ruling declaring that such suits against the government must follow notice to the government body within 120 days of the alleged violation. That notice requirement, if applied to the open records context, would give the government as long as 120 days to delay action on a request.

The case stemmed from allegations by LaGrange Police Chief Robert Auchinleck that a committee created by the town of LaGrange to study law enforcement and boating safety policy violated both the open meetings and open records laws in 1994 by meeting and discussing business in private.

In particular, Auchinleck sought a copy of a letter sent to a town supervisor, which purportedly alleged that the chief was improperly influenced by a friend when reporting the facts of a boating accident to state and federal authorities.

Auchinleck also sought the minutes of the meeting at which the letter was discussed and charged that the committees closed meetings violated the open meetings act.

In response to a suit in Walworth Circuit County Court, the town of LaGrange responded that Auchinleck had failed to give it notice of the circumstances surrounding the claim within 120 days of the alleged injury, as required by state law. Judge John Race agreed with the town and granted its motion for summary judgment.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed that decision, noting that the open records and open meetings laws set forth specific enforcement mechanisms to force governmental entities to comply with those laws and those mechanisms were inconsistent with those for filing suit in, for example, the personal injury context.

“Imposing a potential 120-day delay for a citizen to obtain public records or to compel a meeting to be open,” the Court opined, “necessarily results in an added layer of delay and frustration in a citizen’s attempt to ensure compliance with the open government laws.” (Wisconsin ex rel. Auchinleck v. Town of LaGrange; Counsel: Patrick Hudec, East Troy)