Digitized documents no different in corporate spat, Wis. SC rules
Justice Louis B. Butler Jr.
MADISON -- E-mails written within a company could be dragged into public light should the venture end in tears, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled today.
In today's opinion in Marie L. Kasten v. Doral Dental USA, LLC (docket# 2005AP995) the Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision of the Ozaukee County Circuit Court*. That ruling denied a former company and marital partner's right to inspect e-mails following a dispute.
The lower court ruled that Kasten could not inspect "e-mails and document drafts" as they were not considered "records" or "company documents." But the state Supreme Court's ruling today has overturned that key notion.
The opinion, written by Justice Louis B. Butler, Jr., states that Doral provided "greater member rights of inspection" to company documents than allowed by the Wisconsin statute. A reference to "other writings" in the member's "operating agreement" was key.
"Doral Dental's operating agreement, which provides access to 'Company documents' as well as 'records', grants a right of inspection that embraces document drafts and some company e-mails," Butler wrote.
The matter has now been remanded for a re-hearing of Marie Kasten's initial e-mail inspection request against Doral Dental of July 2004 "in a manner consistent with this opinion," Butler concluded.
Butler was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters earlier this month from his alma mater, Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc. He also delivered the graduation ceremony's keynote address.
*original copy corrected