Watton v. Hegerty was a 2008 case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court concerning the release of emergency detention reports.
This case established that for many exemptions, including exemptions for mental health records, the legislatures intent on protecting the records expands the exemption to records pertaining to the subject but held by other, government agencies that are not specifically designated by the statutory exemption.
- On September 8, 2006, Watton requested signed statements of emergency detention for a particular individual from the Milwaukee police department.
- On October 19, 2006, the police department rejected the request claiming that the documents were exempt under Wisconsin Statute § 51.30(1)(b) which exempts "treatment records" and "registration records" of mentally unstable individuals.
- Prior to this rejection, Watton filed a petition in district court seeking to compel the police department to release the records.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the police department. Watton appealed, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals overturned the decision of the trial court.
- The judgment was appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the police, finding the records exempt from requests. The Court of Appeals overturned this decision, arguing that the exemption for "registration" and "treatment" records did not apply to the situation. As a result, the records were not exempt and the police department was obligated to release the documents.
The Supreme Court overturned the ruling of the Court of Appeals and determined that the documents in fact were exempt.
The Supreme Court held that the emergency detention records were in fact registration records because they were produced in the process of enrolling said individual into a mental treatment facility. It was irrelevant whether the facility created and maintained the records, or the police department created and maintained them in their obligation to arrest mentally unstable individuals and deliver them to a treatment facility. The court further noted that the legislature expressed a clear statutory intent to keep the records of mental health patients protected, and that the court did not feel it was its place to remove that exemption. The court thus held that, because the documents were exempt, the court could not order their release, thus ruling in favor of the police department.