Minnesota Department of Administration Advisory Opinion 00-054

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 IPA and, except for any data classified as not public, are available for public access.

On September 18, 2000, IPA received a letter from "X." In this letter, X asked the Commissioner to issue an advisory opinion regarding his/her right to gain access to certain data maintained by Independent School District 11, Anoka-Hennepin.

In response to X's request, IPA, on behalf of the Commissioner, wrote to Dr. Roger Giroux, Superintendent of the District. The purposes of this letter, dated September 19, 2000, were to inform him of X's request and to ask him to provide information or support for the District's position. On October 2, 2000, IPA received a response from Paul H. Cady, District Legal Counsel. A summary of the facts of this matter follows.

X's minor child, "Y," is a student in the district. In a letter dated August 9, 2000, X requested copies of "all itemized attorney bills relating to [Y] . . . ."

In a letter dated August 17, 2000, DeAnn LaValle, District Human Resources Manager, responded: "[i]t is anticipated that this request will require 1/2 hour of clerical time, at $20.00 per hour, to gather the information. Actual copy charges will depend on the number of pages to be copied." (Emphasis added.)

In his response to the Commissioner, Mr. Cady wrote:

. . . it is my understanding that the request for an Advisory Opinion relates to the District's charging [X] to gather' information in response to [X's] request for attorney bills. The issue may be one of semantics. As you are aware, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 13.04, Subd. 3, the responsible authority may require the requesting person to pay the actual cost of making, certifying, and compiling the copies.' Similarly, pursuant to the Department's rules, the responsible authority may charge a reasonable fee for providing copies of private data.' Minn. R. 1205.0400, subp 5. The reasonable fee may include the cost of the labor required to prepare the copies.' Minn. Rule 1205.0300, subp. 4. The use of the verbs make,' compile,' and prepare,' certainly would incorporate the verb gather' in response to an individual's request for data. As such, it is the District's position that it responded appropriately and reasonably as contemplated by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.


Issue:

In his/her request for an opinion, X asked the Commissioner to address the following issue:

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, did School District 11, Anoka-Hennepin, respond appropriately to an August 9, 2000, request for copies of private data?


Discussion:

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, when an individual requests copies of government data, the entity may charge a fee. Section 13.03 provides government entities with guidelines for establishing an appropriate charge when the requestor is not the subject of the data. Section 13.04 sets forth different parameters for situations in which the requestor is the subject of the data. The key difference is that if the data requestor is not the data subject, the entity may include in its charge the "actual costs of searching for and retrieving" the data. If the data requestor is the data subject, the entity may not charge for searching for and retrieving the data and may charge only "the actual costs of making, certifying, and compiling the copies." Minnesota Rules, parts 1205.0300 and 1205.0400, provide some additional guidance regarding what government entities might consider in determining a reasonable fee for copies of government data, regardless of whether or not the requestor is asking for data about him/herself.

X requested copies of data relating to X's minor child, Y. Pursuant to section 13.02, subdivision 8, "individual" includes the parent of a minor child. Accordingly, the requirements provided at section 13.04, subdivision 3, are applicable to X's request.

In her response to X, Ms. LaValle stated that the copy charges included the cost to "gather" the data. In his response to the Commissioner, Mr. Cady said the issue is one of "semantics," and that "making, certifying and compiling" incorporate the verb "gather." The Commissioner respectfully disagrees. Under section 13.04, subdivision 3, the District may charge only those costs directly associated with the making and compiling of the copies. (X did not request certified copies of the data.) The District did not provide documentation that it incurs an actual cost of $20.00 per hour to make and compile copies, beyond the per page copy cost.


Opinion:

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

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, School District 11, Anoka-Hennepin, did not respond appropriately to an August 9, 2000, request for copies of private data, because it included a charge to "gather" the data, which is not allowed under section 13.04, subdivision 3.

Signed:

David F. Fisher
Commissioner

Dated: November 15, 2000