IPAD's Bi-Monthly Data Practices Update

FYi newsletter header, from the Information Policy Analysis Division of the Department of Administration

MAY 2016

Case Law Update

Funk v. O’Connor, et al., No. 10-CV-14-547 (First Judicial District, Carver County, Mar. 31, 2016)

A group of citizens sued four members of the Victoria City Council for violations of the Open Meeting Law (OML). The judge found 38 intentional violations, including serial meetings, improper notice, and improperly closed meetings. The judge stated that for an intentional violation to occur, a public body member must only have the intent to attend and participate in the meeting. The judge concluded, “Good faith is not a defense to a violation of the Open Meeting Law” and that public body members are presumed to know the law’s requirements. Individual city council members were fined in amounts between $1,200 and $2,250. The judge also found that the public body itself was liable for the failure to: post notice, record closed meetings, and properly close meetings. However, the City was not a named defendant, so the judge could not impose a fine. The judge concluded by stating, “An overhaul of the [Open Meeting Law] statute should be seriously considered by the Legislature."

Eggenberger v. West Albany Township, et al., No. 15-1378, (8th Cir. Apr. 21, 2016)

Plaintiff alleged violations of the Minnesota and United States Constitutions based on the Township’s denial of access to government information. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court, granting summary judgment to the Township. Plaintiff argued that the Township generally allows individuals to view and copy public information, but the Township targeted Plaintiff specifically to prevent him from viewing and photocopying information. The Court held that there is no private cause of action for violations of the Minnesota Constitution and further held that Plaintiff did not have any common-law rights enforceable under the Minnesota Constitution. The Court also held that Plaintiff did not have a First Amendment right to access any data that was not “publically available as a general matter.” The fact that the Township had provided Plaintiff and others the opportunity to view some public information did not mean that Township had created a First Amendment right to access all information.

Sapp v. City of Baudette, et al., No. 15-CV-1589 (D. Minn. Mar. 28, 2016)

The Court denied Defendant Brooklyn Park’s motion to dismiss claims under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPAA). In particular, Plaintiff established that he had a previous relationship with a member of the Brooklyn Park Police Department (BPPD) and that a BPPD lieutenant was aware that said employee had accessed Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s wife’s records in the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database multiple times. Those facts, along with a suspicious pattern of DVS database lookups that suggested they had been done by the same person, were sufficient to raise the likelihood that plaintiff’s records were accessed for an impermissible purpose from “conceivable” to “plausible” and so BPPD’s motion to dismiss was denied.

As to other defendants, the Court granted Defendant White Bear Lake’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim due to a lack of sufficient facts. The court also granted several other motions to dismiss on the basis that the DPPA claims were time-barred and because state agency Commissioners are protected by qualified immunity.

Weitgenant v. Patten et al., No. 14-CV-255 (D. Minn. Apr. 12, 2016)

Plaintiff sued a multi-county social services agency (Agency), several Agency employees, including the Responsible Authority (RA), and three counties served by the Agency for alleged violations of the federal DPPA and Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. 

The DPPA direct liability claims were dismissed because the DPPA does not establish a duty of care by an employer and the Plaintiff failed to allege that the Defendants in question had “knowingly” given the employee Defendants access to the DVS database “for a purpose not permitted” under the DPPA. The DPPA claims for vicarious liability for the actions of the employees and RA were likewise dismissed because “Imposing [vicarious] liability here, where the violations resulted from willful employee misconduct despite proper training and where the data was not publicly disseminated, would result in strict liability…”

The Data Practices Act claims for direct liability against the Agency and the counties were dismissed because Minnesota law allows for disclosure as required under the DPPA. Claims of vicarious liability for the rank-and-file employees’ improper access were also dismissed because the employees’ improper accessing of the private data was not related to their employment and because the Agency did not benefit from the improper access. Vicarious liability claims under the Data Practices Act for the RA’s “fail[ure] to establish appropriate security safeguards, procedures, and other measures to prevent misuse…” of DVS records were dismissed because there was no evidence that the RA knew of the impermissible access. In addition, the Data Practices Act’s requirement to establish such safeguards was not added until 2014, three years after the alleged violations occurred.

Office of Administrative Hearings Update

Webster v. Hennepin Cnty. et al., No. 5-0305-33135 (OAH, Apr. 22, 2016)

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that Hennepin County violated several provisions of the Data Practices Act relating to its response to a data request by Plaintiff to inspect public data. The County declined to provide Plaintiff with an unknown quantity of responsive data because his request was unreasonably burdensome and would monopolize Hennepin County’s servers for 15 months. The ALJ held that the Act does not recognize “burden” as a basis to deny access to public government data, and concluded that the County had violated the Act on the following bases: 1) failing to establish procedures to ensure that requests for government data are received and complied with in an appropriate and prompt manner; 2) failing to maintain government data in such a way as to make them easily accessible for convenient use; 3) failing to permit Plaintiff to inspect and copy public data; and 4) failing to timely inform Plaintiff of the legal citations for the County’s denial of access to the requested data. The ALJ ordered Hennepin County to remedy the above violations by June 3, 2016, and imposed a civil penalty against the county in the amount of $300.

Upcoming IPAD Workshops

notebook and pencil

Save the Date!

June 17, 2016: Introduction to Data Practices Policies and Procedures Workshop

Save the date for IPAD's Intro to Data Practices Policies and Procedures workshop. This half-day workshop will provide an overview of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and required policies. This workshop is a perfect opportunity for those employees new to a job that requires a basic understanding of Minnesota data practices law and is also a great chance for those familiar with data practices to refresh their knowledge, share their thoughts, and ask questions. IPAD recommends that anyone considering enrollment in one of our more advanced workshops on law enforcement or personnel data first attend this workshop.

June 29, 2016: Law Enforcement Data Workshop

In addition, save the date for IPAD’s summer offering of its Law Enforcement Data workshop. This full-day workshop provides an overview of classifications and requirements regarding law enforcement data and other statutes relating to juvenile delinquency data and traffic accidents. Because this is a specialized workshop, IPAD recommends that attendees without prior experience working with law enforcement data first attend IPAD’s Intro to Data Practices workshop before enrolling in this workshop.

MN Admin / Information Policy Analysis Division