Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Jan-Feb 2017 issue

From the Bench: Bus Incident Recordings Create Complicated Data Case

MINNESOTA GOVERNMENT DATA PRACTICES ACT
Personnel data

Two Metro Transit bus drivers were involved in separate incidents while driving a bus. Transit officials investigated and downloaded portions of bus video recordings from hard drives onto DVDs to decide whether the drivers should be disciplined. Normally the data is only stored on the hard drives for 330 hours, and then the oldest data is recorded over first. Transit officials determined that neither incident warranted discipline.

KSTP-TV requested copies of the video recordings. The Metropolitan Council denied the request, claiming the data were private “personnel data” under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. KSTP-TV filed a data practices complaint with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings. An administrative law judge determined that the video recordings were public data. The Metropolitan Council appealed, claiming that the data became private personnel data when it downloaded and maintained the video recordings on DVDs specifically to evaluate the conduct of the bus drivers as employees. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the administrative law judge’s decision, reasoning that the video recordings were public data because they were maintained for several reasons, including service and safety reasons, and not only because the bus drivers were employees.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the case for additional fact finding. The Supreme Court held that a government entity must classify government data at the time a request for access to the data is made. The Supreme Court also held that the video data is personnel data only if it is maintained exclusively because the individual subject of the data is a government employee. Therefore, if the Metropolitan Council maintained the requested data on DVDs only for the purpose of the personnel investigation at the time KSTP-TV submitted its request, the video remains private personnel data. But if the video was still maintained for several purposes on the hard drive at the time of the request, KSTP-TV is entitled to the data. In the Matter of: KSTP-TV v. Metro Transit, 884 N.W.2d 342 (Minn. 2016).

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
Equal protection

A water main broke in the City of Minneapolis and flooded several nearby condominiums. The flooding caused damage to both insured and uninsured condominium owners. Several entities and individuals submitted damage claims to the city. The city settled 14 of these claims by uninsured parties without requiring evidence that the city’s negligence caused the dam¬ages. Two insurance companies submitted claims on behalf of several of their insured claimants, but the city denied their claims. The insurance companies sued the city, claiming a violation of the Equal Protection Clause and takings in violation of the state and federal Constitution.

The federal district court granted summary judgment in the city’s favor. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that a city does not violate the Equal Protection Clause by treating insured claimants and uninsured claimants differently because they are not similarly situated individuals. The Court of Appeals noted that the city’s decision to settle the uninsured claims is rationally related to its governmental interest in protecting the welfare and safety of its uninsured citizens. The Court of Appeals also held that a claimant first must file and pursue a takings action in state court before it can bring such a claim in federal court. American Family Ins. v. City of Minneapolis, F.3d (8th Cir. 2016).

Illustration: Drinking and drivingCRIMINAL LAW
Test refusal statute

A Ramsey County Sheriff ’s deputy stopped Todd Trahan after seeing him speeding and driving erratically. Trahan smelled of alcohol, had red and watery eyes, and had difficulty standing up. The deputy arrested Trahan for driving while impaired. At the jail, the deputy read Trahan the implied consent advisory and offered him a blood or urine test. Trahan chose a urine test, but was unable to produce a valid sample. The deputy then asked Trahan to take a blood test, but he refused. The deputy did not have a warrant for the blood test. Trahan was charged with first-degree test refusal. Trahan appealed, claiming that charging him with test refusal was a violation of his constitutional rights.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in Trahan’s favor and held that it is unconstitutional to apply the test refusal statute to a warrantless request for a blood test. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed and held that the application of the test refusal statute to Trahan was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, does not permit the state to prosecute individuals for violating the test refusal statute for refusing a blood test that is required without a warrant or exigent circumstances. The Supreme Court noted that exigent circumstances would exist in emergency situations where “the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” The Supreme Court concluded that exigent circumstances did not exist in Trahan’s situation. State v. Trahan, N.W.2d (Minn. 2016). Note: The Minnesota County Attorneys Association and the League of Minnesota Cities filed an amicus curiae brief in the county’s support. In a related appeal, State v. Thompson, N.W.2d (Minn. 2016), the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment also prohibits the state from prosecuting individuals under the test refusal statute for refusing a warrantless request for a urine test.

GOVERNMENTAL IMMUNITIES
Official immunity

Police sent Marc Hall to the Ramsey County Detox Center after he crashed a bicycle into a garage while smelling of alcohol. Early in the morning, Hall complained of leg pain to a nurse, who observed that Hall could walk, but could not put his full weight on his leg. The nurse told Hall to wait until after the patients set for discharge had been processed. About 10 minutes later, Hall called 911 from a pay phone. The dispatcher notified the Detox Center. A staff member told Hall he would be placed in seclusion if he called 911 again.

Hall placed another call, claiming he called his lawyer. A staff member believed the call violated the restriction and summoned aides, who led Hall toward the seclusion room. After Hall was uncooperative, the aides pushed him against a wall and twisted his arm behind his back. In the seclusion room, the aides performed a take-down of Hall. Later, Hall was taken to the hospital, where a doctor placed his arm in a sling and immobilized his leg.

Hall sued Ramsey County and four county employees for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and negligence. The county and its employees made a motion for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to vicarious official immunity and official immunity because the decisions to place Hall into seclusion and to use force while escorting him to the seclusion room were discretionary decisions that were not willful or malicious. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ramsey County and its employees. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that both official immunity and vicarious official immunity apply because the challenged conduct was discretionary and was not willful or malicious. Hall v. Ramsey County, No. A15-1817 (Minn. Ct. App. July 11, 2016) (unpublished opinion).

Stack of newspapersPUBLIC CONTRACTS
Official newspaper

In 2013 and 2015, the Anoka County Record submitted a bid to the City of Fridley to be its official newspaper. The city concluded that the bids did not include sufficient information to determine whether the Anoka County Record satisfied the requirements in state law for a newspaper qualified to be an official newspaper. As a result, the city did not select the Anoka County Record as its official newspaper in either year. In 2015, the Anoka County Record sued the city seeking a writ of mandamus ordering the city to select it as its official newspaper and seeking $7,000 in damages. Following a hearing, the district court dismissed the lawsuit for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that because the Anoka County Record failed to provide the necessary information to the city in 2013 and 2015 to demonstrate that it met the legal requirements for a qualified newspaper, the city did not have a duty to appoint the Anoka County Record as its official newspaper. Anoka County Record, LLC v. City of Fridley, No. A16-0218 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2016) (unpublished opinion).

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: snaughto@lmc.org or (651) 281-1232.

Read the Jan-Feb issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

* By posting you are agreeing to the LMC Comment Policy.