Woznicki v. Erickson was a case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1996 concerning employee personal records. The ruling on this case was modified by the legislatures passage of statute 19.356, which limited the right of notification to only certain instances.
This case established that records held about an individual by a government agency are public records subject to request. However, the individual about whom the record pertains has a right to be notified of the release of the record and has the right to file suit to stop the release of those records.
- In April 1994, Woznicki was investigated for consensual sex with a minor. During the course of the investigation, the district attorney subpoenaed Woznicki's personal file from work as well as his complete telephone listing.
- In July 1994, the case was dropped. After the case was dropped, both Woznicki's employer and the father of the alleged victim requested the investigatory files.
- Woznicki filed a suit in circuit court, attempting to prevent the release of his files. The Circuit court denied the suit. Woznicki appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
- The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Woznicki.
- The decision was appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Ruling of the court
The Court of Appeals determined that the Wisconsin Open Records Law provided a broad, categorical exemption for all employee personal records. They further determined that the phone records were private records created by a private entity and merely being held by a public office. These records were not considered public records because of their private nature.
The Supreme Court overruled the decision of the court of appeals and ordered the records released.
The court began by citing Wisconsin Newspress, Inc. v. School District of Sheboygan Falls which established that there was no broad exception for employee personal records. Instead Newspress determined that you must apply the balancing test in each case, in order to weigh the public benefit of release versus the public benefit of withholding the documents. The court also determined that, because the phone records are held by a public official, they fall under the states definition of public records and are thus not necessarily exempt, but must also be balanced with the public interests. The court also established that because Woznicki had an important privacy interest in the case, he also had a right to sue to have the documents kept closed, despite the Wisconsin Open Records Law not explicitly providing that opportunity. The court extended this right to include an order that the agency releasing the records is obligated to notify the people the records concern before releasing the documents. Based on these facts, the court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the circuit court to determine if the public's interest was best served by release or disclosure.