This is an opinion of the Commissioner of Administration issued pursuant to section 13.072 of Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13 - the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. It is based on the facts and information available to the Commissioner as described below.
Facts and Procedural History:For purposes of simplification, the information presented by the citizen who requested this opinion and the response from the government entity with which the citizen disagrees are presented in summary form. Copies of the complete submissions are on file at the offices of PIPA and are available for public access.
On November 29, 1994, PIPA received a letter from Mr. Larry Walsh, a resident of Rosemount, Minnesota, in which he described his attempts to obtain copies of certain public data maintained by the City of Rosemount (hereinafter "City" or "Rosemount"). According to Mr. Walsh, in April, 1994, he requested copies of certain public data. Upon receipt of the copies, Mr. Walsh noted that the City had included copies of data which he had not requested. He said he immediately returned those copies, and informed the City that he would not pay the copying charges for the unrequested items. He also questioned the City's copy charge of $.50 per page, which he believed to be unreasonable, and said he would not pay for the copies he retained until he received an explanation of the charges.
In September and November, 1994, Mr. Walsh received additional invoices from Rosemount concerning the copying charges. He said that he has received no response to his communications with Rosemount concerning these invoices. Mr. Walsh requested an opinion of the Commissioner on the issues stated in the "Issues" section below.
In response to this request, PIPA, on behalf of the Commissioner, wrote to Mr. Thomas Burt, City Administrator of Rosemount. The purposes of this letter were to inform Mr. Burt of Mr. Walsh's opinion request, to provide a copy of the request to him, to ask Mr. Burt or the City's attorney to provide information or support for the City's position, and to inform him of the date by which the Commissioner was required to issue this opinion. (In subsequent correspondence, Mr. Walsh and Mr. Burt were notified that the Commissioner would be taking a portion of the additional 30 days allowed by the opinion statute to issue this opinion.)
On December 8, 1994, in his response, Mr. Burt stated that the City's practice of charging $.50 per sheet for photocopies is a reasonable charge, based on the "[c]osts for copy machines, maintenance, paper and city staff time...." which were considered in the determination of the fee. Mr. Burt did not address the issue of Mr. Walsh's having been charged for copies of data he did not request.
Section 13.03 of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13, the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (hereinafter "Act" or "MGDPA"), controls access to public government data. Section 13.03, subdivision 3, states that "[i]f a person requests access for the purpose of inspection, the responsible authority may not assess a charge or require the requesting person to pay a fee to inspect data." If a person requests copies of public data, the responsible authority may charge for "... the actual costs of searching for and retrieving government data, including the cost of employee time, and for making, certifying, compiling, and electronically transmitting the copies of the data or the data, but may not charge for separating public from not public data."
Robert A. Schroeder
Dated: December 30, 1994