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Disclosure of HIV-Status is Constitutional and Tort Claim in Wisconsin

On August 29, 1991, a Wisconsin court of appeals held that a trial court should not have granted jail officials' motion for summary judgment on a prisoner's Constitutional- and tort-based claims for publicizing his HIV status.

Roger M. Hillman, a former Columbia County (Wisconsin) Jail prisoner, filed suit in state court after he observed multiple jail employees reading his medical file that accompanied him back from a trip to a hospital subsequent to which his HIV status became common knowledge among the jail employees and prisoners. The suit raised claims under state statutes, § 895.50(2)(a) (public disclosure of private facts), § 146.025 (confidentiality of HIV test results) and § 895.50(2)(c) (invasion of privacy), as well as his federal constitutional right to privacy and state torts of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on all claims. Hillman appealed.

The court of appeals reversed the dismissal of the public disclosure of private facts and federal constitutional right to privacy claims and upheld the dismissal of the other claims. In doing so, the court of appeals held that oral communication among numerous prisoners and jail employees constituted "publicity" in support of a claim for public disclosure of private facts. It also held that, given the connection of HIV status with sexual activities and IV drug use and the fact it was disseminated to people with whom Hillman did not have even casual contact, he stated a claim for violation of his federal constitutional right to privacy. The case was reversed in part, affirmed in part and returned to the trial court for further proceedings. See. Hillman v. Columbia County, 164 Wis.2d 376, 474 N.W.2d 913, 12 A.L.R. 997 (Ct.App. 1991).

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Related legal case

Hillman v. Columbia County