April 19, 2017 – Wisconsin administrative agency websites are a free resource for legal researchers.
In the past decade, there have been a few changes to Wisconsin administrative agency websites, with some agencies absorbed into others or renamed, and other agencies on the brink of being disbanded.
While Fastcase, LexisNexis, Westlaw, and other subscription databases contain administrative agency decisions, here are alternative ways to find them.
Labor, Employment, and Related Decisions
Wisconsin Labor Industry Relations Commission (LIRC)
LIRC rules on appeals in three areas: unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, and equal rights. Currently, the future of LIRC is up in the air. The 2017-18 Biennial budget includes a proposal to eliminate LIRC and move to administrative review of decisions by the Wisconsin Division of Hearing.
Each of the individual databases listed below has the following shared features:
Keyword searching using standard Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT, and NEAR)
A link to published court cases from the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals
Clicking on “home” from the upper left corner of any screen to return to that section’s home page
Results list displaying the title, date of decision, and a brief synopsis of the case as a blue hyperlink - simply click on the link to access a full-text version of the decision
- The ability to return to the home page via the “home” link in the upper left corner
Unemployment Insurance (UI)
Search decisions by keyword or by digest category number. There are also quick link buttons to decisions from 2016 and 2017. The UI digest is arranged by subject numbers and provides case names and then links to the decision. Within each category, there is a search button to run a search of that classification number across the LIRC UI database.
Worker’s Compensation (WC)
On the digest page, search by “Neal and Danas” numbers (based on the Worker’s Compensation Handbook by John D. Neal and Joseph Danas Jr., from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®), or use the quick link buttons to search by a recent period. Similar to the UI digest, there is a link to search by number and category.
Equal Rights Decisions (ER)
Like with the digests for UI and WC, the ER digest provides summaries of administrative and judicial decisions. You will need to search summaries one of four ways: by an alphabetical topic index, a hypertext subject matter index, a full subject matter index, or the table of cases. The first three options will allow you to drill down by topic and classification number. The table of cases will allow you to choose or drill down by case name – as well as provide classification numbers assigned to the decision. Regardless of how one searches, the results will display a summary of the case with the title of the case appearing as a hyperlink with the summary.
Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC)
Search WERC for labor relation decisions, grievance awards, interest awards, and State Civil Service Appeals decisions. The WERC database contains files of all non-consent interest awards and is updated monthly. You can search by date, subject, or by using linked lists.
Wisconsin Personnel Commission (WPC)
While the WPC was abolished in 2003, its two successor agencies, the Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division and Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, continue to cite to WPC decisions.
The WPC’s Digest of Decisions continues to be maintained. The Digest provides a summary of decisions from Feb. 16, 1978, through March 1, 1999. It can be searched by topic list, subject matter, or case name.
A topic or subject matter search requires a bit more work in tandem, but ultimately leads you to the table of cases.
To use the topic list: Scroll down, then use Ctrl-F (find) or the alphabetical guide to locate the topic of interest, then note the classification number (i.e., Disciplinary Actions, General Requirements 201.01). Then go to the case summaries (see below).
The subject matter index search works in the same way, but with a drill down/through approach directly to the case summaries (see section below), rather than moving from one database to another. As with the topic list, a search leads to the table of cases (see below) and the full decision.
Case summaries searches are organized by classification numbering system. Once you have your subject matter number from either a search of the topic list or subject matter search, locate that number and click on the link to display a list of case summaries. Then note the case name and go to the table of cases for a case name search.
Case name searches are the most direct method to locate a decision. Simply find your case name and then click on the link to the decision. Unfortunately, not all cases are currently hyperlinked – but the Personnel Commission is working on that.
You can find ethics opinions in several locations:
Advisory Opinions of the Wisconsin Ethics Board are found on the State of Wisconsin Government Accountability Board website. The page has categories for Digests and Full Advisory Opinions, arranged chronologically by year.
Summaries of Opinions of the Wisconsin Attorney General from 1994 to present can be found on the Wisconsin State Legislature website. Choose between Opinions “prior to 2000,” or “2000 to present.” The link for “prior to 2000” will include summaries of opinions from vol. 71-vol. 81 (1982-1994) as well as full-text AG opinions from 1995–1999. The link for “2000 to present” will include full-text opinions by OAG number. Find opinions of the current Wisconsin Attorney General on the Department of Justice website.
A list of Judicial Ethics opinions issued by the Judicial Advisory Committee can be found on the Wisconsin Court System website. The list will provide the date, a description of the issue, and links to PDF versions of the opinions.
Need to see if an attorney has had a grievance filed? Go to the lawyer history search page or find the list of pending complaints on the Wisconsin Court System website. You can also search for Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) decisions.
While not a state agency, the State Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee issues ethics opinions. On WisBar.org, you can search formal, informal, memorandum, and withdrawn ethics opinions. Members-only access can be extended by attorney members to support staff (librarians, paralegals, legal assistants) – find out more on WisBar.org. With support staff access, subscribe to CaseLaw Express to receive a weekly email of decisions, including OLR decisions.
Commissioner of Insurance Administrative Orders
The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance issues administrative actions on insurance agents and companies. You can search actions after 1964 by name and/or date for either insurance company or insurance agent or both. There is a handy search guide located to the right of the search screen.
Several years back, the former Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing became the Department of Wisconsin Safety and Professional Services. With the new agency name came a new website for locating decisions regarding professional licenses or disciplinary actions.
Reports of Orders and Disciplinary actions can be found on the department’s website. Noticeably new is the Agreement that one must read and agree to before viewing the reports. This agreement clearly states what is available (reports from November 1998 to present), the information contained in the reports, any appeal status, and the disclaimer that records “not open to public inspection by statute” are not available on the website. Once you agree to the terms you can then search by board or profession, name, organization name, city, county, date, etc. You can also select your sort order to display your results by order date, respondent name, profession, or county. Once your results lists displays, simply click on the “order number” for a full-text decision. Clicking on the “printer friendly” link will present your results in an easier to read view.
Other useful tasks you can complete from the website are credential/license search, professional board or council contacts including meeting minutes and more, and information on education and licensing requirements.
The web page, hosted on WisBar.org, is very easy to navigate. If you know the year and name of a decision, simply open the desired year folder and scroll down through the list of documents. At any time you can go back to the main page by clicking on the “back to all years” link. You can also do a keyword search of Tax Commission documents by clicking on the hyperlink within the “Search Tax Commission Documents – Click Here” which appears about midway within the main page. It is worth noting that at the bottom of the home page is a useful guide to the various letters that appear with the case number.
Public Service Commission
The Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin posts orders and notices from Jan. 1, 1998, forward on their website. The PSC is in the process of revamping and upgrading their website. Note: Many of the “psc.wi.gov" URLs are being replaced with “apps.psc.wi.gov.” All links in this article will use the “apps.psc.wi.gov” URL.
You can view the docket for cases filed before the PSC. Search by case number, case type using a pull-down option that displays alphabetical case type assignments, service type (electric, water, sewer, telecommunication, other), utility name, and/or a keyword search. You can also limit your status results to all, active, inactive, closed, archived, or destroyed.
Locate new applications and petitions with a specific time frame or a specific date range. Results are displayed in chronological order by date. At a glance, you will see the docket ID, the date, the utility name, and the docket title. Simply click on the docket ID and you will be taken to the docket information that will tell you the applicants and the case coordinator. You can use the various other tabs to link out to documents, events, staff involved, and history and hearing reports.
From the Electronic Records Filing System advanced search portal, you can locate documents filed for specific cases (i.e., ALJ decisions, briefs, exhibits, petitions, and more.)
If you are following a particular case, sign up for ERF-EZ Subscriptions to receive email notification of new document filings. You will need to enter a case docket, but you will not be required to log in or provide a password.
Lastly, you can find links to major energy and telecom cases.
This division conducts administrative hearings for a variety of state agencies. To locate a decision, use the search box at the top of the page. For better results, include “DHA” as part of your search criteria. You may also want to include quotation marks around names (i.e., “ABC Company”). Decisions will be returned in docket number order.
Here you can find direct links to Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources decisions from 2008 to present, and a searchable collection of redacted Division of Hearings and Appeals decisions from 2012 to present.
The website includes a good overview of the Administrative Hearing process and information on the DHA’s four divisions: the Waste Facilities Siting Board, the Work and Family Services Unit, the Corrections Unit, and the General Government Unit, which provides hearing services for approximately 15 state agencies.
Financial Institutions Administrative Decisions
Decisions issued by the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) involve certificates and licenses, or can prevent an individual or business from taking a certain action. These involve Banking orders, Licensed financial services orders for decisions from 2007 onward, Mortgage banking administrative orders for decisions from 2001 onward, and Securities administrative orders for decisions from 1998 onward.
Unfortunately, the only search option is to use the large search box found in the upper right corner any of the web pages. To search, enter your terms. However, your results will not be limited only to administrative orders. You will most likely have to wade through a few false hits. Try entering both your search term and administrative order with quotation marks around each. For example: “ABC holdings” & “administrative order.”