Minnesota Department of Administration Advisory Opinion 97-035

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 person who requested this opinion and the response from the government entity with which the person disagrees are presented in summary form. Copies of the complete submissions are on file at the offices of PIPA and, with the exception of any data classified as not public, are available for public access.

On June 20, 1997, PIPA received a letter dated June 19, 1997, from Tom Lamphere. In his letter, Mr. Lamphere requested that the Commissioner issue an advisory opinion regarding his access to certain data maintained by the University of Minnesota.

PIPA, on behalf of the Commissioner, wrote to Tracy Smith, Associate General Counsel at the University of Minnesota, in response to Mr. Lamphere's request. The purposes of this letter, dated June 24, 1997, were to inform her of Mr. Lamphere's request and to ask her to provide information or support for the University's position. On July 25, 1997, PIPA received a response, dated July 23, 1997, from Ms. Smith.

A summary of the facts surrounding this matter is as follows. In a letter dated December 23, 1996, Mr. Lamphere made a request to the University for access to certain data related to two separate events which occurred in 1996. Those data were the subject of a previous opinion issued by the Commissioner, 97-025. (In that opinion, the University responded that the data requested by Mr. Lamphere did not exist.)

On April 24, 1997, Mr. Lamphere wrote to Ms. Smith. He stated:

Thank you for the time you kindly gave to me on the telephone yesterday. As we discussed my December 23, 1996 data practices request, we were able to clear up some confusion.

1) My first request was for copies pertaining to the 1996 football brunch. I have enclosed copies of Chancellor Martin's September 1996 invitation sent to football alumni and their guests. Please be so kind as to supply me with my December 23, 1996 request for information on this event.

2) My second request was for copies pertaining to the November 22, 1996 function held at the Glensheen Mansion. My original request was in error as I put the date as December 30, 1996. I apologize for my error that caused this confusion. Please be so kind as to correct my error and supply me with my request for this November 22, 1996 event.


The Commissioner's understanding of the situation is that after Mr. Lamphere and Ms. Smith spoke, both parties were in agreement as to the two different events about which Mr. Lamphere was seeking data.

In a letter dated May 7, 1997, Ms. Smith responded to Mr. Lamphere's request. She wrote, "Please find enclosed in response to your April 24, 1997, request, documents related to a 1996 football brunch and a November 1996 event at Gleensheen."

In a letter dated May 12, 1997, Mr. Lamphere wrote:

Thank you for your May 7, 1997 letter and information regarding my December 23, 1996 data practices request....You were very kind in supplying me with these documents but in looking through them, I noticed that UMD left out some public data documents that I requested. Please be so kind by contacting UMD, and asking UMD to fulfill the remainder of my request. I asked for copies of original itemized receipts. UMD didn't supply me with the following copies...

Mr. Lamphere then listed the data stated in the "Issue" statement below. Having received no response from the University by June 19, 1997, Mr. Lamphere requested an advisory opinion.



Issue:

In his for an opinion, Mr. Lamphere asked the Commissioner to address the following issue:
Has the University of Minnesota responded properly, pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 13.03, to a request for the following data:

  1. Copies of itemized receipts for the "Food Service charge" for the 10/19/96 brunch for UMD football alumni;

  2. Copies of itemized receipts for the "Twin Ports mailing service" for the 10/19/96 brunch for UMD football alumni;

  3. Copies of itemized receipts for the "Copying" for the 10/19/96 brunch for UMD football alumni; and

  4. Copies of all original receipts from the liquor store that supplied the beverages for the November 22, 1996, Glensheen Dinner, including the itemized receipt of all beverages ordered



Discussion:

Minnesota Statutes Section 13.03 sets forth a government entity's obligations to respond to requests for access to public government data. Subdivision 2 of Section 13.03 provides that the entity must respond in an "appropriate and prompt manner." Pursuant to Minnesota Rules Section 1205.0300, the entity must respond within a "reasonable time."

In her response to the issue raised by Mr. Lamphere, Ms. Smith stated, "I responded to Mr. Lamphere's April 24, 1997, request for data by letter dated May 7, 1997 (copy attached). Judith Karon responded to Mr. Lamphere's May 12, 1997, request for data by letter dated July 7, 1997 (copy attached). The University has met its obligations under [Chapter 13]."

It is correct that in a letter dated May 7, 1997, Ms. Smith responded to Mr. Lamphere's April 24, 1997, request. However, she did not provide all the data he requested. Mr. Lamphere, in turn, made a second request for the remaining data and, a month later, having heard nothing from the University, requested this advisory opinion. The University's response to Mr. Lamphere's follow-up request was dated July 7, 1997.

As stated above, pursuant to Section 13.03, subdivision 3, a government entity is required to respond to requests for access to data in a "prompt manner" and within a "reasonable time." In this case, approximately ten weeks passed before the University provided the data in response to Mr. Lamphere's April 24, 1997, request. The University has not responded "promptly" or within a "reasonable time."


Opinion:


Based on the facts and information provided, my opinion on the issue raised by Mr. Lamphere is as follows:

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 13.03, subdivision 3, and Minnesota Rules Section 1205.0300, the University did not respond in a "prompt manner" or within a "reasonable time" to Mr. Lamphere's request.

Signed:

Elaine S. Hansen
Commissioner

Dated: August 14, 1997