IPAD's Bi-Monthly Data Practices Update

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


Advisory Opinion Update

Special meeting requirements

In Advisory Opinion 16-005, a member of the public asked whether a Township Board complied with Open Meeting Law (OML) requirements for a special meeting; whether the board held serial meetings; and whether the board violated the law when a quorum attended a county planning commission meeting at which zoning/planning issues were discussed.

The Commissioner determined that the board acted properly because the actions it took during the meeting were related to the special meeting notice. In addition, the board did not meet outside of the noticed special meeting or otherwise engage in serial meetings. Finally, because a quorum of the board attended and participated in the county planning commission meeting, relayed board business, deliberated, and received information as a group on issues relating to its official business, the quorum’s presence at the county planning commission meeting was a special meeting that the board should have noticed.

Case Law Update

Harlow v. State of Minn. Dept. of Human Services, et al., No. A14-1342 (Minn. Aug. 10, 2016).

Harlow, a psychiatrist at the Department of Human Services' (DHS) Minnesota Security Hospital (MSH), was engaged in an incident involving alleged maltreatment of a patient in November 2011. Following the incident, two separate investigations were undertaken: an employment investigation which concluded in December 2011 and resulted in Harlow’s termination, and an investigation by the DHS licensing division which did not conclude until May 2012. In February 2012, while the licensing investigation was still pending, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported on the incident. Referencing the closed employment investigation, the DHS deputy commissioner and the MSH administrator gave statements during an interview with MPR regarding Harlow’s actions and resulting termination.

Harlow sued DHS, its deputy commissioner, and the hospital administrator alleging violations of the Data Practices Act and for defamation. Harlow’s Data Practices Act claim rested on an alleged inappropriate disclosure of confidential data, part of an active licensing investigation, under Minn. Stat. § 13.46, subd. 3.

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision that there was no data practices violation because the publicly disclosed data was part of the employment investigation which had become public at the time Harlow was terminated, despite the same data being classified confidential in the licensing investigation. The Court concluded that identical data may simultaneously exist as both public and not public when classified differently in distinct locations or contexts. The Court overturned the Court of Appeals determination that the hospital administrator was protected by official immunity and remanded the case to consider alternative theories of qualified immunity.

KSTP-TV v. Metro. Council, No. A14-1957 (Minn. Aug 24, 2016).

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently reversed a decision of the Court of Appeals, which had held that video recordings from Metro Transit (a division of the Metropolitan Council) buses were not personnel data and were therefore presumptively public data. 

The Supreme Court held that the video data are personnel data under Minn. Stat. § 13.43, if the data are “maintained” exclusively because the subject of the data is a government employee. If the data are maintained for additional purposes, then the data are not personnel data. Based on the language of § 13.43 and supported by the plain language of Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 9, the Court further held that data are classified at the time a request is made, not at the time the data are collected or created.

Because the record was insufficient to determine whether or not the recordings were being maintained solely as personnel data at the time of KSTP-TV’s request, the Court remanded the case back to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Burks v. Metro. Council, No. A14-1651 (Minn. Aug. 24, 2016).

In a companion case to the KSTP-TV v. Metro. Council decision, the Supreme Court held that the Met Council must provide an identified data subject with access to a video recording of a bus incident maintained by the entity. The Court ruled that the Data Practices Act's requirement to provide access to “private or public data upon request by the individual subject of that data” (Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 3) extends to all individuals that can be identified in the data. “The right [of access] extends to ‘the individual subject’ – that is, the identifiable individual – even if the data in question identifies other individuals.”

Upcoming Workshops

Intro to Data Practices Policies and Procedures Workshop – September 14, 2016 (8:45 a.m. - Noon)

This half-day workshop provides an overview on the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and related policies and procedures required for government entities.

Register here.

Law Enforcement Data Workshop – September 28, 2016 (9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.)

This full-day workshop provides an overview of law enforcement data in Minnesota. Because this is an in-depth, specialized workshop, IPAD recommends that attendees without prior data practices experience first attend IPAD’s Intro workshop.

Register here.

MN Admin / Information Policy Analysis Division