The state’s largest business lobby asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday to weigh in on a lawsuit over the release of state data on coronavirus outbreaks at businesses.
The case concerns records requested by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel nearly a year ago from the state Department of Health Services, after meatpacking workers and nursing home residents told the newspaper they were left in the dark about outbreaks at their facilities.
The records in question contain the names of roughly 1,000 businesses that are public-facing or employ at least 25 people that saw two or more employees test positive or identify as close contacts.
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce sued in October to stop the release of the data, arguing that disclosing the names of businesses could “irreparably harm” their reputations.
The business lobby also argued that data aggregated from patient health care records should be confidential and that it could make employees identifiable.
A Waukesha County circuit judge sided with WMC and temporarily blocked the state health department from releasing the records last fall.
But the Madison-based District IV Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding in April that WMC did not have the right to challenge the release of public records and stating that a “patient health care record” does not include aggregate data derived from such records.
The appeals court also called the argument that the data could make individual employees identifiable “sheer speculation.”
In the petition to the state Supreme Court filed Tuesday, WMC attorney Ryan Walsh claimed the appeals court’s “breathtakingly incorrect interpretation” could have “massive and devastating statewide consequences for medical privacy.”
“A decision by this Court is needed … to resolve multiple conflicts between the court of appeals’ decision and settled case law,” the petition states.
The state Supreme Court typically takes two to four months to make a decision on whether to hear a case. Three of the court’s seven justices must vote to hear a case.
On average, the state Supreme Court agrees to take on roughly one in 10 cases.