Tetra Tech v. DOR

Case Name: Tetra Tech, Inc. v. Wisconsin Department of Revenue

Type of Case: Agency Deference

Court: Brown County Circuit Court; District III Court of Appeals; Wisconsin Supreme Court

Case Number: 2015-CV-132 (Circuit Court);  2015-AP-2019 (Court of Appeals & Supreme Court)

Filed On: January 26, 2015

Current Status: Wisconsin Supreme Court abandoned practice of deferring to administrative agency interpretations of state law

 

Case Name: Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development v. Wisconsin Labor & Industry Review Commission

Type of Case: Agency Deference

Court: Ozaukee County Circuit Court; District II Court of Appeals; Wisconsin Supreme Court

Case Number: 2015-CV-358 (Circuit Court);  2016-AP-1365 (Court of Appeals & Supreme Court)

Filed On: September 23, 2015

Current Status:Wisconsin Supreme Court abandoned practice of deferring to administrative agency interpretations of state law

Wisconsin courts for decades have chosen to defer to the interpretations of state statutes offered by administrative agencies, even when those agencies are enforcing those statutes against private citizens.  But the Wisconsin Constitution states that the judicial power – including the power to have the final say on awhat a statute means – resides exclusively in the courts, not the executive branch.  Legal scholars have recently begun to question whether the practice of deferring to agency interpretations of statutes violates separation of powers principles.

So have some judges.  Multiple justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court have expressed skepticism of agency deference, and in three cases (dealing with separate substantive issues we expressed no opinion on), the court expressly asked for briefing on the deference question.

On our own behalf, we filed two amicus briefs arguing that court deference to agency interpretations of state statutes is unconstitutional.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that courts will no longer defer to agency interpretations of state statute, concluding that such review will now be de novo.  In doing so, two justices concluded that agency deference is unconstitutional, and two concluded that deference should be eliminated as a practical matter.

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