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Wisconsin Supreme Court says COVID records can be released

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Posted at 9:51 AM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-07 10:51:00-04

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday said the state health department can release data on coronavirus outbreak cases, information sought two years ago near the beginning of the pandemic.

The court ruled 4-3 against Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business lobbying group, which had sought to block release of the records requested in June 2020 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other news outlets.

The state health department in the early months of the pandemic in 2020 had planned to release the names of more than 1,000 businesses with more than 25 employees where at least two workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, along with the Muskego Area Chamber of Commerce and the New Berlin Chamber of Commerce, sued to block the release of the records, saying it would "irreparably harm" the reputations of their members. It argued that the information being sought is derived from diagnostic test results and the records of contact tracers, and that such information constitutes private medical records that can't be released without the consent of each individual.

Attorneys for the state argued that the information contained aggregate numbers only, not personal information, and could be released.

A Waukesha County circuit judge sided with the business group and blocked release of the records. A state appeals court in 2021 reversed the lower court's ruling and ordered the case dismissed, saying WMC failed to show a justifiable reason for concealing the records.

WMC appealed to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's ruling.

A spokesman for the business lobbying group did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

The ruling was written by Justice Rebecca Dallet, who was joined in the majority by two other liberal justices and conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn, who is often a swing vote. The other three conservative justices dissented.