Sept. 23, 2014 – A state appeals court has ruled that the Wisconsin Counties Association did not need to produce records requested by the Wisconsin Police Association because the Counties Association is not subject to public records law.
Under Wis. Stat. section 19.32(1), certain “authorities” must produce records for inspection if requested to do so. Authorities include state or local offices, elected officials, agencies, boards, commissions, and other government-related entities.
The Wisconsin Professional Police Association submitted two requests for records from the Counties Association – a nonprofit organization whose members are Wisconsin counties – which refused, arguing that it was not subject to public records law.
In Wisconsin Professional Police Assoc. v. Wisconsin Counties Assoc., 2014AP249 (Sept. 18, 2014), a three-judge panel for the District IV Court of Appeals agreed that the Counties Association does not qualify as an “authority” subject to public records law.
The panel rejected the Police Association’s claim that the Counties Association is a “quasi-governmental corporation” that falls within the statutory definition of “authority.”
The Counties Association is a “corporation,” the Police Association argued, because Black’s Law Dictionary defines a corporation as an entity created under state laws.
And under a prior case, the Police Association argued, the Counties Association was quasi-governmental because it resembled a governmental corporation.
“As the Counties Association notes, “’ to be a quasi-governmental corporation,’ an entity must first be a corporation,’” and the Counties Association is not a corporation,” wrote Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, noting that nonprofits are unincorporated organizations.
The panel also rejected the Police Association’s claim that the Counties Association was considered a “governmental body” as used in the open meetings law. It said the Police Association forfeited that argument by not raising it at the circuit court.
“Moreover, even if we were to address the merits and resolve the issue, the Police Association does not persuade us,” Judge Kloppenburg wrote.
“In particular, the Police Association does not explain why a statute and informal opinions of the Attorney General which address open meetings ‘ought to be instructive’ when the topic here is public records.”