Wisconsin: Supreme Court Ends Practice of Deferring to State Agency Interpretations of Law

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June 26, 2018

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In Tetra Tech EC, Inc. v. DOR, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ended a longstanding practice of deferring to state administrative agencies’ interpretations of the laws the agencies enforce. Previously, Wisconsin state agencies were given “great weight deference” once certain conditions were met, preventing courts from adopting different interpretations of the law, even if the alternative interpretation was more “reasonable” than the interpretation enforced by the state agency.

Historically, a state agency was given this deference if:

  • The agency has the duty of administering/enforcing the law in question;
  • The agency’s interpretation is long-standing;
  • The agency used its own expertise or specialized knowledge in formulating its interpretation of the relevant law;
  • The agency’s interpretation would provide uniformity and consistency in applying the law.

Under these conditions, Wisconsin courts were required to defer to the agency’s interpretation so long as it was “reasonable,” making it difficult for private litigants to challenge such interpretations.  With Tetra Tech, the Supreme Court has ended this practice, instead requiring courts to give an agency’s interpretation only “due weight” if the above four factors are met.  With the new standard, employers who appeal a state agency’s decision may be able to claim that the relevant statute was not correctly interpreted, and challenge unfavorable agency decisions.

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Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2018 ManagEase

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