FYi- May 2018

FYi Newsletter – From the Data Practices Office at the Department of Administration

MAY  2018     

Advisory Opinion Update

Open Meeting Location and Members' Materials

In Advisory Opinion 18-003, a member of the public asked whether a City Council had violated the Open Meeting Law by holding a meeting outside the geographic boundaries of the body, not providing a copy of members’ materials, and eating dinner together.

The Commissioner concluded, based on the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in Quast v. Knutson, 150 N.W.2d 199 (Minn. 1967) and his prior opinions, that public bodies must hold their meetings within their territorial boundaries. He also opined that the Council violated the OML by not having a public copy of members’ materials available to the public. The Council did not violate the law when the members ate dinner in a public restaurant and none of the members sat together or discussed official business.

Inter-Entity Personnel Data

In Advisory Opinion 18-004, a school district asked about the classification of data it maintained about a School Resource Officer (SRO) employed by a city and assigned to the District. Based on Advisory Opinion 97-030, the Commissioner opined that the definition of personnel data in Minnesota Statutes, section 13.43, includes government data maintained by one government entity about employees employed by another government entity, when employees are working in their official capacities. Therefore, data about the SRO maintained at the District are classified as personnel data and while the existence and status of a complaint against the SRO are public, any other data about a complaint or charge against the SRO is private at the District.

Case Law Update

Webster v. Hennepin County, A16-0736 (Minn. April 18, 2018)

In 2015, Plaintiff/Appellant Webster submitted a data request to Hennepin County for a large amount of data regarding the Hennepin County Sherriff's Office use of biometric data. Webster submitted a variety of keywords that he asked the County to include as part of their search of their data, including email accounts. Following the County's response that the request was "too burdensome", and would monopolize County servers for 15 months, Webster initially narrowed his request, and then filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings. OAH's order was appealed to the Court of Appeals, and then again to the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court made three substantive rulings:

  • Hennepin County's established procedures did not "insure" prompt responses to Webster's data request(s), placing the County in violation of Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 2(a).
  • The County's system of data management, which heavily relied on the electronic e-mail program Microsoft Outlook, sufficiently maintained the data in "an arrangement and condition" that made data "easily accessible for convenient use", as required by § 13.03, subd. 1.
  • The court did not have appellate jurisdiction to address the question of whether Webster's data request was so overly burdensome as to merit exclusion from the requirements of the Data Practices Act.

District Court Issues Orders in Wetterling Case

Stearns County District Court Judge Ann Carrott issued two orders involving the release of inactive investigative data in the Jacob Wetterling case. The bulk of the investigative data became public in 2016 after the investigation ended. The Wetterlings filed in action in district court requesting that certain files remain protected based on a constitutional right to privacy. In addition, the FBI intervened in the case, requesting the return of their investigative files and arguing that the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) governs any release of the data.

Judge Carrott agreed with the FBI in her first order on March 29, 2018. Stearns County must return the FBI files to the United States Government because federal law, in 28 U.S.C. § 534(b), prohibits the disclosure of the records by Stearns County.

In her second order, from April 19, 2018, Judge Carrott granted the media-intervenor’s request for summary judgment, finding that the data in the investigative documents are public government data under Minn. Stat. § 13.82. “The applicable Minnesota statutes and case law on the issue…are dispositive and lead the Court to conclude that the Plaintiffs do not have a legally cognizable claim of informational privacy…. The Minnesota legislature took that into consideration when weighing the privacy rights of individuals and the public’s right to access.”

Upcoming DPO Workshops

Stay tuned for upcoming DPO Workshops!