Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Sep-Oct 2019 issue

From the Bench: What Minnesota Voter Data Is Considered Public?

DATA PRACTICES ACT

Voter Data
Andre Cilek is the executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA), an organization with the goal of ensuring confidence in the integrity of Minnesota elections. In 2017, the MVA sent a letter to the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State requesting access under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) to all “non-private government data” contained in the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). The SVRS is the centralized voter registration database used to administer elections. The Secretary of State’s Office responded that the MVA was only entitled to the voter information listed as public under Minnesota Statutes, section 201.091, which provides that certain voter data is public, including: “voter name, voter address, year of birth of the voter, voting history, information on the voting districts in which the voter is eligible to vote, and the telephone number, if available.” The district court granted summary judgment in the MVA’s favor, ruling that it was entitled to additional voter data from SVRS records. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed and held that SVRS data on (1) registered voter status (active, inactive, deleted, or challenged); (2) reason for a challenge (felon, address, etc.); and (3) voter history information are public data under the MGDPA’s general presumption that government data is public unless it is otherwise classified by federal law, state statute, or temporary classification. Cilek v. Office of the Minn. Secretary of State, 927 N.W.2d 327 (2019). Note: The Secretary of State’s Office has filed a petition for review with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

PREEMPTION LAW

Sick and safe time ordinance
The Minneapolis Sick and Safe Time Ordinance generally requires employers to provide a minimum level of paid sick days, including paid time for family care. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and some other affected employers sued, claiming that state law conflicts with and impliedly preempts the ordinance, and that the ordinance exceeds the city’s territorial authority. The ordinance applies to employees who perform work within the city’s geographic boundaries for at least 80 hours per year, even if their employers are not located within the city. The district court held that state law does not preempt the ordinance, but concluded that the ordinance has an impermissible extraterritorial effect. Therefore, the district court granted a permanent injunction, enjoining the ordinance’s enforcement against any employer located outside the city. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision in part and reversed it in part. The Court of Appeals held that state law does not preempt the ordinance and that the ordinance does not have an impermissible extraterritorial effect. Minn. Chamber of Commerce, et al. v. City of Minneapolis, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2019). Note: the Chamber of Commerce has filed a petition for review with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

CRIMINAL LAW

Sobriety tests
A deputy stopped a vehicle Leland Otto was driving after observing it drive outside the traffic lane and fail to signal before turning. The deputy observed that Otto’s eyes were bloodshot and watery, his speech was slightly slurred, and he smelled of alcohol. Otto admitted he had drunk two or three beers. The deputy asked Otto to perform field sobriety tests. Otto told the deputy that he did not want to perform any tests that involved movement because of his back surgery. The deputy administered three tests that did not involve movement, which Otto failed. The deputy then gave Otto a preliminary breath test, which revealed an alcohol concentration of 0.096. The deputy arrested Otto for driving under the influence (DUI) and gave him a breath test that produced a result of 0.09. Otto’s license was subsequently revoked because of the DUI.

Otto filed a petition to reinstate his driving privileges, which the district court denied. Otto appealed, claiming that the deputy had a duty to inform him that his participation in field sobriety tests was optional and that the deputy erred by expanding the traffic stop into a DUI investigation. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision and held that there is no constitutional or statutory requirement for police to inform vehicle drivers that they may refuse to perform field sobriety tests. The Court of Appeals also held that the deputy did not err by expanding the traffic stop. Otto v. Comm’r of Public Safety, 924 N.W.2d 658 (Minn. Ct. App. 2019).

EMPLOYMENT LAW

Minnesota Human Rights Act
Thaleaha McBee, who worked as a machine operator, sued her employer, Team Industries, Inc., claiming in part that it violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) by failing to engage in an interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations for her disability. In 2015, McBee’s doctor imposed a 10-pound lifting restriction due to disc narrowing, a bulged disc, and bone spurs in her vertebrae. The doctor also recommended that she “not bend her neck up.” Days after informing her supervisor of her medical restrictions, McBee was terminated due to concerns that she could not perform the essential functions of her position and because continuing her employment would pose a serious threat to her health. McBee claimed that Team could have reasonably accommodated her disability by assigning her to a different machine, allowing her to lift less than 10 pounds, or providing her with assistance when she needed to lift more than 10 pounds. McBee and Team disagreed whether the MHRA requires an employer to engage in an interactive process with an employee seeking an accommodation, whether McBee could perform the essential functions of her position with reasonable accommodation, and whether her continued employment posed a serious threat to her health.

The district court granted summary judgment in Team’s favor. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision in part, reversed it in part, and remanded the case for trial. The Supreme Court held that the MHRA does not require an employer to engage in an interactive process, but it also concluded that there were genuine factual disputes regarding the position’s essential functions and regarding whether McBee’s continued employment would be a serious threat to her health. McBee v. Team Industries, Inc., 925 N.W.2d 222 (Minn. 2019). Note: Employers must engage in an interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

First Amendment
Acting Decatur County Sheriff Ben Boswell fired Tamela Muir shortly after her husband, Bert Muir, resigned as sheriff. In 1996, Tamela began working for the Sheriff’s Office as a jailor and dispatcher. Tamela had no contractual right to her employment; instead, she was an “at-will” employee. Bert was elected sheriff in 1998. Bert hired Boswell as deputy sheriff in 2001, and he married Tamela in 2008. Bert resigned as sheriff in 2016, when faced with a petition seeking his removal based on several complaints that he had sexually harassed county employees. After Bert resigned, a county attorney advised Boswell to consider putting Tamela on administrative leave. The attorney was concerned that “problems” might arise if Tamela “was allowed to remain working around employees whom her husband had harassed, and who had signed affidavits in support of her husband’s removal from office.” Boswell placed Tamela on indefinite leave on March 4, 2016. On April 21, 2016, Boswell sent Tamela a letter confirming that he had officially terminated her employment based in part on his concern that employees would fear she would retaliate against them because of their testimony against her husband.

Tamela sued, claiming that Boswell fired her simply because she was married to Bert and that this action violated her First Amendment right to intimate association. Boswell and Decatur County moved for summary judgment, claiming that Boswell was entitled to qualified immunity and that the county was not subject to liability. The district court denied summary judgment. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision, concluding that there was no constitutional violation. The Court of Appeals reasoned that, when reviewing an intimate-association claim, the key question is whether the government directly and substantially interfered with the right to enter or to maintain a marital relationship. The Court of Appeals noted that Boswell did not act with the goal of poisoning their marriage and concluded that, because Boswell did not commit an unconstitutional act, no municipal liability can attach to the county. Muir v. Decatur, Iowa, 917 F.3d 1050 (8th Cir. 2019).

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

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