State of Wisconsin v. Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation

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State of Wisconsinvs.Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation
Number: 2006AP662
Year: 2008
State: Wisconsin
Court: Wisconsin Supreme Court
Other lawsuits in Wisconsin
Other lawsuits in 2008
Precedents include:
The case established criteria for private institutions receiving public funds to be subject to open records requests. These criteria include:
  • Whether the corporation was funded by a governement agency.
  • Whether the corporation served a public function.
  • Whether it appeared to be a public entity
  • Whether or not the corporation was subject to some degree of control by a government body
  • Whether or not a government body had access to the records of the corporation.
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State of Wisconsin v. Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation is a 2008 decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The vote on the high court was 4-2.

It was considered a victory for those who favor access to public records.

The ruling clarifies when nominally private entities (in this case, the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation) are subject to the Wisconsin Open Records Law.

The case was brought by the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office against the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation. The court ruled that the corporation was subject to the public records and open meetings laws.

Important precedents

In the decision, Wisconsin's justices said these factors were relevant in their decision:

  • Whether the corporation was funded by a government agency.
  • Whether the corporation served a public function.
  • Whether it appeared to be a public entity
  • Whether or not the corporation was subject to some degree of control by a government body
  • Whether or not a government body had access to the records of the corporation.

While the court emphasized the importance of economic development, it also stated: "We cannot countenance a government body circumventing the legislative directive for an open and transparent government by paying an entity to perform a governmental function."[1]

Background

  • The Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation (BDADC) was a non-profit corportation founded in 1997 for the purpose of promoting economic development in the town. The mayor and the chairperson of the City Community Development Committee are guaranteed positions on the board. The remaining ten members of the corporate board are private citizens. The BDADC was not created by the city. It however, did replace a city office when it was created and hired the head of the office as its executive vice president.
  • BDADC and the city had a corporate agreement which established that the city would provide offices and office supplies and utilities and provide the corporation with funds for public economic development. In turn, the city has the right to review the BDADC's financial statements. The BDADC acts in an advisory nature, offering suggestions for policies and contracts to the city council, who vote on those suggestions in open meetings.
  • In 2004, the State filed a claim in court, alleging that the BDADC was a public body subject to both the Wisconsin Open Records Law and the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law and had been acting in violation of those laws from its inception.
  • The circuit court ruled in favor of the BDADC.
  • The state appealed the decision to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals who transferred the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.[1]

Ruling of the court

The trial court ruled in favor of the DBADC, determining that the DBADC was not a public body subject to Wisconsin law.

The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the trial court, deciding that the agency was in fact a public body subject to the laws.

The court begins by noting that according to Wisconsin statute, the laws apply to governmental bodies as well as "quasi-governmental corporations"[2]. The court determined that a quasi-governmental corporation was a private entity that "resembles a governmental corporation in function, effect, or status."[2] The court then turned to the various opinions the attorney general had issued on the subject. Pursuant to these opinions, the court determined that creation by the city was not a requirement for a corporation to be subject to Wisconsin public records and open meetings laws. The court then turned to precedent in other states, including cases in the Court of Appeals of Maryland (City of Baltimore Development Corporation v. Carmel Realty Associates), the New York Court of Appeals (Buffalo News v. Buffalo Enterprise Development Corporation), and the Florida Supreme Court (News and Sun-Sentinel Company v. Schwab, Twitty, & Hanser Architecture Group). Based on these decisions, the court determined that there are four major criteria that need to be considered when determining whether a corporation was subject to Wisconsin transparency laws:

1.)Whether the corporation was funded by a governement agency.
2.)Whether the corporation served a public function.
3.)Whether it appeared to be a public entity
4.)Whether or not the corporation was subject to some degree of control by a government body
5.)Whether or not a government body had access to the records of the corporation.[1] 

Based on these factors, the court determined that the BDADC was in fact a governmental body because:

  • The corporation was entirely city-funded.
  • It performed the public function of economic development.
  • It appears in the way it presents itself in public to be a part of the city.
  • And is subject to a degree of city control, including access to its records.

The court thus mandated that the BDADC was subject to the Wisconsin Open Records Law and the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, and must begin to abide by those laws.[1]

Associated cases

See also

External links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ruling of the Court
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named ruling