This draft complaint provides a template for student newspaper editors to use when an authority has refused to release records requested in writing under the Wisconsin Public Records Law. A complaint tells the judge what happened to lead up to this point: almost like a story, it should introduce the key “characters” and the “setting,” as well as the facts that make up the “climax.” The complaint is formulaic to make it very easy for the judge to quickly understand each of these elements. When using this draft complaint, change the information that is bracketed to fit your needs. If something doesn’t seem to make sense, seek legal help! Overall, remember that the goal of the complaint is to tell a short, fact-based story to the judge and show her that the law is on your side.
This draft complaint contains refutations of four potential scenarios: (1) the Defendant denied the request without explanation, (2) the Defendant claimed that the materials requested are copyrighted, (3) the Defendant claimed that the materials requested infringe on student privacy pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), (4) the Defendant tried to charge for redaction and separation costs. Use caution when filing a complaint if the Defendant has not yet replied to the request. In WIREdata, Inc. v. Vill. of Sussex, 2008 WI 69 (2008), a Plaintiff filed a mandamus action when the Defendant had not responded to its written request after approximately a month and a half; the court determined that the Plaintiff “did not properly commence the mandamus actions . . . because the municipalities had not denied [Plaintiff’s] requests for the records before [Plaintiff] filed the mandamus actions.” If a significant amount of time has passed, the request was not complex, and you have followed up with the authority several times without reply, filing a complaint may be appropriate.
After this complaint is filled out, attach copies of relevant documents to it before filing with the court. Important documents to include are: your initial letter requesting records; the Defendant’s response, if any; follow-up letters you sent requesting documents; and any further communication between you and the Defendant about this matter.