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:
|Did Independent School District 281, Robbinsdale Area Schools, comply with Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, in responding to a request for copies of the following data: "data that document how much money the District spent on the summons and complaint - Independent School District 281 v. Service Employees International Union Local 284 - and all grievances related to the summons and complaint?"|
Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 13.03, when a government entity receives a data request from an individual who is not the subject of the data, the entity is required to respond in an appropriate and prompt manner, and within a reasonable time. (See section 13.03, subdivision 2(a), and Minnesota Rules, part 1205.0300.)
In her comments to the Commissioner, Ms. Hansen wrote:
The School District complied with Mr. Carlson's [September 21, 2005] request for data to the extent it understood the request Specifically [the District] provided him with information regarding the legal costs incurred by the School District The School District provided Mr. Carlson with a detailed spreadsheet which included the dates legal services were rendered, a description of the legal services provided on the respective dates, the identity of the law firm that provided the legal services, the amount of the legal fees, and the date of the School District's payment of the legal fees .
[Regarding the November 12, 2005, data request] The School District again promptly complied with Mr. Carlson's request to the extent the District understood it. On November 29, 2005, the District responded to Mr. Carlson's second data request and indicated that the legal fees related to the Summons and Complaint totaled $546 from the October 1, 2005 billing from the law firm of Frank Madden & Associates.
In a December 7, 2005 letter to [IPAD], Mr. Carlson stated that based on the School District's initial October 13, 2005 submission, he "received most of the data requested." (emphasis added). Mr. Carlson stated, however, that he believed there was more data that the School District had not provided .
The School District did not provide copies of the billing statements from the law firm that provided the legal services based on the fact that the statements included fees for matters not included in Mr. Carlson's request for data. Instead, the School District provided Mr. Carlson with a spreadsheet on October 13 and information in the November 29 letter specific to the matters referenced by Mr. Carlson. In the interest of cooperation and in an effort to satisfy Mr. Carlson, in addition to the information previously submitted to Mr. Carlson on October 13 and November 29 by the School District, we are enclosing with this letter all itemized billing statements from the law firm of Frank Madden & Associates from September 1, 2004 to the present. These documents provide a detailed and itemized listing of the School District's legal fees including, but not limited to, the Summons and Complaint filed on August 29, 2005 and grievances related to the Summons and Complaint, the first of which was filed on October 12, 2004. These billing statements are being provided to Mr. Carlson by copy of this letter.
The issue before the Commissioner is whether the District complied with Chapter 13 in responding to Mr. Carlson's request for copies of financial data concerning the Summons and Complaint, and related grievances. He first asked for these data as part of a larger request. Upon receiving the spreadsheet from the District, Mr. Carlson narrowed his request to those data concerning the Summons and Complaint, etc. The District's response was to provide a total dollar expenditure amount. Later, as part of her comments regarding Mr. Carlson's opinion request, Ms. Hansen provided to Mr. Carlson copies of itemized billing statements sent from her law firm to the District, but these statements also include billings for projects other than the Summons and Complaint, etc.
When an individual makes a request under Chapter 13 for access to government data, the entity must provide the data, advise that the data are classified such as to deny the requestor access, or inform the requestor that the data do not exist. If the individual asks the entity for data categorized in such a way that the entity must create data to respond to the request, the entity should advise the requestor that nothing in Chapter 13 requires government entities to format/create data to respond to a data request and that such requests are beyond the purview of Chapter 13. It is up to the entity and the requestor to determine if they can arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement to create or format the data; no statutory language dictates what the entity may or may not charge. In addition, when an individual requests data such that an entity must create data to respond, the entity should give the requestor the option of compiling the information him/herself, using the data that do exist.
Here, in his second request, Mr. Carlson asked for copies of data. He also asked that the data be itemized in a specific way, if possible. The District responded by providing him with a total dollar expenditure amount. In the Commissioner's opinion, the District's response was not appropriate; it needed to explain to Mr. Carlson what data do exist, how those data are categorized, that the District can charge a fee to create data, and ask him how he would like to proceed.
While Ms. Hansen provided monthly billing statements as part of her response to Mr. Carlson's opinion request, she did not clarify whether these are the only data the District maintains regarding how much money the District spent on legal services - in other words, that there are no data providing a break-down of expenditures relating to the Summons and Complaint, etc. The Commissioner knows only that the District did not previously provide copies of these documents to Mr. Carlson because "the [billing] statements included fees for matters not included in Mr. Carlson's request for data." As previously stated, the District needed to explain to Mr. Carlson what data it does maintain and ascertain whether Mr. Carlson wished to access those data or request that the District create new data.
Based on the facts and information provided, my opinion on the issue that Mr. Carlson raised is as follows:
|Independent School District 281, Robbinsdale Area Schools, did not comply with Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, in responding to a request for copies of the following data: "data that document how much money the District spent on the summons and complaint - Independent School District 281 v. Service Employees International Union Local 284 - and all grievances related to the summons and complaint."|
Dana B. Badgerow
Dated: January 30, 2006