Wisconsin Supreme Court
Open Records — redaction
An authority subject to an open records request may not impose a fee for the actual, necessary, and direct costs incurred by the authority (including staff time) of deleting nondisclosable information included within the responsive records.
“It would require an unnatural reading of the statutory text to include the costs of redaction in one of the categories listed in Wis. Stat. § 19.35(3). Courts occasionally will entertain a somewhat unnatural or creative reading of a statutory text if such an interpretation is necessary to further a statute’s purpose or is necessary to prevent an absurd result that the legislature could not have intended. The instant case decidedly does not present either of those situations.”
“As we have stressed, the purpose of the Public Records Law, as explicitly stated in the Declaration of Policy, is to provide the people of Wisconsin with ‘the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government.’ Wis. Stat. § 19.31. The legislature explicitly instructed the courts that the Public Records Law ‘shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access.’ Wis. Stat. § 19.31.”
“We interpret the text of the Public Records Law in light of the Declaration of Policy, which is to foster transparent government. In the present case, the interpretation prohibiting the imposition of fees for deletions is the more natural interpretation of the text and also comports with the public policy favoring public access to records. Increasing the costs of public records requests for a requester may inhibit access to public records and, in some instances, render the records inaccessible.”
Reversed and Remanded.
Attorneys: For Appellant: Dreps, Robert J., Madison; For Respondent: Swank, Melanie R., Milwaukee; Benedon, Carrie M., Madison