City of New Richmond to Appeal Circuit Court DPPA/Open Records Decision:
The City of New Richmond has announced its intention to appeal the decision of St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Howard Cameron in the New Richmond News, et al. v. City of New Richmond case. This case garnered the attention of municipalities and police departments throughout the state in March when the Court issued a decision finding the City of New Richmond Police Department violated the Wisconsin Open Records Law by redacting information from certain police records before providing them to the newspaper in response to an open records request. The City cited the Driver’s Privacy and Protection Act (“DPPA”) and the recent case of Senne v. Village of Palatine, decided by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, as the basis for redacting personal information from the records. Judge Cameron’s opinion, however, found that the Wisconsin Open Records Law requires disclosure of records relating to the affairs of government, which includes the official actions of police officers in responding to accidents or other incidents. Therefore, it is an obligation of the City under the Open Records Law to provide the records. As an essential function of government, the court opined, disclosure of the records would fall under one of the exceptions of the DPPA and allow for unredacted disclosure of the records. The court also found that the requested records could be disclosed without redaction because they fell within the exception for uses related to the operation of a motor vehicle or public safety.
Judge Cameron’s March decision resulted in a number of demands from news outlets and plaintiffs’ attorneys, among others, seeking unredacted copies of accident reports and other records from police departments throughout the state. In its current posture, however, the decision only has the effect of a circuit court ruling.
A Judgment in favor of the newspaper was entered on July 2, 2014. A Notice of Entry of Judgment was filed on July 9 and begins the clock ticking on the City’s time to appeal. Following a July 14th City Council meeting, the City issued a press release stating its intention to appeal the circuit court’s decision and the basis for doing so. An article in the New Richmond News, which includes the City’s statement, can be found at https://www.newrichmond-news.com/content/news-wins-lawsuit-city-set-appeal. Given the recent nationwide attention on compliance with the DPPA and the statewide discussion of this case in particular, it will be extremely interesting to see what occurs in this case at the appellate level.