This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).






Jennifer Seeger,





State of Minnesota

(Administrative Law Judge Agency),



County of Olmsted

(Olmsted Community Services and its attorney unit),



Filed August 29, 2000


Kalitowski, Judge

Concurring specially, Amundson, Judge


Olmsted County District Court

File No. C399786


Mark G. Stephenson, Stephenson & Sutcliffe, P.A., 1635 Greenview Drive Southwest, Rochester, MN 55902; and


Wallace C. Sieh, Rural Route 1, Box 534, Minneiska, MN 55910 (for appellant)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, James S. Alexander, Assistant Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101-2128 (for respondent State of Minnesota)


Gregory J. Griffiths, Dunlap & Seeger, P.A., 206 South Broadway, Suite 505, P.O. Box 549, Rochester, MN 55903 (for respondent County of Olmsted)


            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant Jennifer Seeger challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment to respondents State of Minnesota and Olmsted County on her claim that respondents violated the data practices act by releasing her address in a child support enforcement proceeding against her child’s father.  Appellant also contends the district court erred by failing to address her claim of promissory estoppel.  We affirm.


            Appellant is the parent of a minor child born in 1990.  Prior to the child’s birth, the father pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary as a result of an incident in which he attacked appellant with a knife.  Appellant obtained protection orders against the father in 1994 and 1998.  Child support proceedings resulted in an order directing the father to make support payments through respondent Olmsted County’s child support enforcement unit.  

Appellant moved to a new city in 1995 and informed Olmsted County of her address change.  In 1996, appellant and Olmsted County sought income withholding and an order for contempt due to the father’s child support arrearages.  At about the same time, the father requested disclosure of appellant’s address because he wished to bring a motion for visitation.  Appellant was told by an Olmsted County employee that the county would not release her address to the father.  In a decision in the 1996 proceeding, the district court found that appellant’s address could not be released to the father “[d]ue to data privacy” and ordered that the father could serve any future motions on appellant through the assistant county attorney.  

In April 1998, Olmsted County instituted a driver’s license revocation proceeding in district court based on the father’s continuing failure to pay child support.   Following a hearing, the ALJ assigned to the case issued an order suspending the father’s license.  The ALJ completed an affidavit of service showing service of the order on the county attorney, the father, and appellant.  The affidavit of service contained appellant’s home address.

Appellant filed suit against respondents State of Minnesota and Olmsted County, alleging that the release of her address constituted a violation of Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.99 (1998).  She also asserted a claim of promissory estoppel against Olmsted County.  Respondents made motions for summary judgment on all of appellant’s claims, which the district court granted.[1]



            On appeal from a grant of summary judgment, we determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990); see Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03 (setting forth district court’s standard for summary judgment).  We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).  No genuine issue of material fact exists where the nonmoving party presents evidence “which is not sufficiently probative with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case to permit reasonable persons to draw different conclusions.”  DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 71 (Minn. 1997).  The interpretation of a statute presents a question of law, which we review de novo.  Hibbing Educ. Ass’n v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985).

Appellant argues that the district court erred as a matter of law by concluding that the data practices act did not protect against the disclosure of her address in the affidavit of service prepared and signed by the ALJ.  We disagree.

The data practices act mandates that all data maintained by certain public bodies shall be accessible to the public unless classified by law as nonpublic, protected nonpublic, private, or confidential.  Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 1 (1998).  The parties do not dispute that Olmsted County originally collected appellant’s address as part of a child support enforcement proceeding, and as such the address was “welfare data” under Minn. Stat. § 13.46 (1998) while it was under the control of Olmsted County.  Under the “welfare data” provisions of the act, unless another statute provides for a different classification, or the data is summary data, “data on individuals collected, maintained, used, or disseminated by the welfare system is private data on individuals.”  Minn. Stat. § 13.46, subd. 2(a).  The act prohibits disclosure of private “welfare data” except under specifically identified exceptions.  See id. (enumerating permissible reasons for disclosure).

In determining that appellant’s address was not protected by the act, the district court primarily relied on an exception that classifies “welfare data” as public data if it is also “investigative data” that is submitted as part of an administrative or judicial proceeding.   See id., subd. 3.  The act defines “investigative data” as

[d]ata on persons * * * that is collected, maintained, used, or disseminated by the welfare system in an investigation, authorized by statute and relating to the enforcement of rules or law.


Id.  Such “investigative data” becomes public data “upon its submission to an administrative law judge or court in an administrative or judicial proceeding.”   Id.

The district court found that appellant’s address was “investigative data” because appellant provided it to Olmsted County in order to continue receiving child support payments.  The court then concluded that because the address was contained in the district court file, the address became “public data” once the file was submitted to the ALJ for purposes of adjudicating the license revocation.  Appellant challenges this determination on the grounds that (1) her address was not “investigative data” as defined by the statute because it was not relevant to the driver’s license revocation; and (2) her address was not “submitted” to the ALJ as part of a submission of proof.

Because we conclude that the data practices act provides alternate grounds for affirming the district court’s decision, we do not address appellant’s arguments.   We may affirm summary judgment if the decision is correct on other grounds.  Winkler v. Magnuson, 539 N.W.2d 821, 827 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Feb. 13, 1996); see also Myers through Myers v. Price, 463 N.W.2d 773, 775 (Minn. App. 1990) (“We will affirm [summary] judgment if it can be sustained on any grounds.” (citations omitted)), review denied (Minn.  Feb. 4, 1991).

The data practices act explicitly exempts from its coverage any data contained in records of the judiciary:   “The judiciary is not governed by [chapter 13].  Access to data of the judiciary is governed by rules adopted by the supreme court.” Minn. Stat. § 13.90, subd. 2 (1998).  The act defines “judiciary” broadly to include “any office, officer, department, division, board, commission, committee, or agency of the courts of this state, whether or not of record.”  Id., subd. 1 (1998).

Respondents argue that this exception completely bars appellant’s data practices claim for release of her address by the ALJ.  We agree.  Although the district court did not make an express finding concerning the manner in which appellant’s address became incorporated into the district court file, the parties do not dispute that it was present there.  Through affidavit testimony, the ALJ who presided over the license revocation confirmed that she obtained appellant’s address from the district court file used to conduct the hearing.  Under the exception for data of the judiciary, once appellant’s address became a part of the district court file, the data practices act no longer governed its disclosure, improper or otherwise.

Appellant claims that her address retained its status as “private data” because the district court had previously ordered the data sealed.  We disagree.  The record does not support appellant’s claim that the district court placed any document containing appellant’s address under formal seal.  Appellant relies on the district court’s factual findings in the 1996 child support enforcement proceeding, in which the court acknowledged the confidential nature of appellant’s address.  But the accompanying order simply states that the father may effect proper service upon appellant by serving any future motions on the county attorney.  Moreover, even if the court had entered a formal order sealing the file, the data practices act would not provide a cause of action for the violation of such an order because of the broad exception for data of the judiciary under Minn. Stat. § 13.90.  The data practices act simply provides no cause of action for the release of information from a district court file.

In reaching this conclusion, we emphasize that we do not find the disclosure of appellant’s address to be appropriate or acceptable.  We are troubled by the failure of both respondents to employ sufficient safeguards to avoid revealing appellant’s current whereabouts to a known assailant.  Nevertheless, given the broad exception for data of the judiciary under section 13.90, subdivision 2, we cannot reasonably construe the data practices act to provide a cause of action for the disclosure that occurred here.

Finally, at oral argument, appellant contended for the first time that the exception for records of the judiciary does not apply because the ALJ was acting as a member of the executive rather than the judicial branch.  See Holmberg v. Holmberg, 588 N.W.2d 720, 726-27 (Minn. 1999) (voiding prospectively former administrative child support process under Minn. Stat. § 518.5511 (1996) as unconstitutional infringement on separation of powers doctrine).  We disagree.  The exception applies to the data of the judiciary, not members of the judiciary.  See Minn. Stat. § 13.90, subd. 2.  The ALJ obtained appellant’s address from a district court file, data maintained by the judiciary.  We conclude the district court properly granted summary judgment on appellant’s data practices act claim. 


            Appellant also requests that we remand this matter to the district court for an express ruling on her promissory estoppel claim against respondent Olmsted County.  Because appellant has failed to present any evidence that the elements of promissory estoppel are met here, we decline. 

            A reviewing court considers de novo whether the evidence raises a fact issue sufficient to submit a promissory estoppel claim to a jury.  Spanier v. TCF Bank Sav., 495 N.W.2d 18, 20 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Mar. 22, 1993).  The elements of promissory estoppel are:  (1) the defendant made a promise; (2) the defendant expected or should have reasonably expected the promise to induce substantial and definite action by the promisee; (3) the promise did induce such action; and (4) the promise must be enforced to avoid injustice.  AFSCME Councils 6, 14, 65 & 96 v. Sundquist, 338 N.W.2d 560, 568 (Minn. 1983), appeal dismissed sub nom. Minneapolis Police Relief Ass’n, 466 U.S. 933, 104 S. Ct. 1902 (1984). 

            Appellant bases her claim for promissory estoppel on her case worker’s 1996 assurance that the county would not release her address to the father of the child.  Initially we note that we are doubtful promissory estoppel would provide a means of recovery of appellant’s claimed damages.  See Deli v. University of Minn., 578 N.W.2d 779, 782-83 (Minn. App. 1998) (holding emotional distress and other extra-contractual damages are not recoverable under promissory estoppel, unless breach is accompanied by independent tort), review denied (Minn. July 16, 1998).  But even assuming that promissory estoppel could apply, appellant presented no evidence to suggest that the promise was intended to induce her to take some action, that it actually did so, or that the county was the party that breached the alleged promise.  Appellant does not dispute that she was required to notify Olmsted County of her address in order to continue to receive child support payments.  Because appellant did not present evidence sufficiently probative to support her promissory estoppel claim, summary judgment was proper.  See DLH, 566 N.W.2d at 71 (recognizing no material fact at issue if nonmoving party does not present evidence sufficiently probative of essential element of case to permit different conclusions by reasonable people).



AMUNDSON, Judge (specially concurring)

This case is deeply troubling.  The data in question here is appellant’s address, which because of the attendant circumstances, she supplied to the county welfare system in October 1995.  This data is defined, classified, and protected by the Minnesota Government Data Privacy Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.99.  And it is clearly classified as “private data.”  See Minn. Stat. § 13.46, subd. 2 (Supp. 1999) (classifying welfare data as private data).  Disclosure of that data is specifically prohibited except under specifically described conditions, most of which do not apply here. See id. (listing exceptions to non-disclosure requirements).  This is all made very clear by the Minnesota Department of Human Services IV-D Manual VI-2000, which states:

Case information is classified as private data, as this term is defined by Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13.  Case information is available to the individual subject of the data and to public officials having the responsibility for the administration of income maintenance programs—to the extent that such information is necessary for them to carry out their specific job duties.  Any other use of the data requires the signed consent of the data subject.


Data transferred from one agency to another retain the original (private) classification and remain subject to the same disclosure restrictions.  Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 4(c) (1998).

            In October 1995, to avoid the father of her child, Charles Mickow, appellant moved to another city and notified the county department of social services of her new address.  On May 3, 1996, Mickow contacted social services to inquire about visitation. Appellant’s caseworker notified her in writing of the request, assuring her that her new address would not be released.  In a hearing, Mickow asked the court to divulge appellant’s address.  The court properly found that, “Due to data privacy, petitioner’s address cannot be released, and the court agrees that legal service to Jennifer Seeger can be made upon [county attorney’s office].”  Information in the court file containing the proscribed data was in a separate portion of the file that appellant thought was sealed.  Indeed, that is how the district court originally treated it.  But on April 9, 1998, respondent county moved an administrative law judge to suspend Mickow’s driver’s license for failure to pay child support.  That administrative law judge ordered Mickow’s license suspended and mailed a copy of that order and an affidavit of mailing giving appellant’s address directly to Mickow.

The information, when collected from appellant, was clearly private and should have stayed private no matter where transferred within the state government.  By statute, the classification of data is determined at the time it is collected, and the person from whom the data is collected is to be informed of all uses at the time it is collected.  Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 2, (1998).

An individual asked to supply private or confidential data concerning the individual shall be informed of: (a) the purpose and intended use of the requested data within the collecting state agency, political subdivision, or statewide system; (b) whether the individual may refuse or is legally required to supply the requested data; (c) any known consequences arising from supplying or refusing to supply private or confidential data; and (d) the identity of other persons or entities authorized by state or federal law to receive the data.



While the Data Practices Act exempts data contained in records of the judiciary from its coverage (instead relying on access rules adopted by the supreme court), Minn. Stat. [R1] § 13.90, subd. 2 (1998), that cannot conscionably conclude the discussion.

The respondents argue that this provision acts to completely bar appellant’s data practices claim for release of her address by the ALJ.  Though the Data Practices Act defines “judiciary” broadly to include “any office, officer, department, division, board, commission, committee, or agency of the courts of this state, whether or not of record * * *,” Id., can this result be good policy?  The district court made no express finding concerning how appellant’s address was incorporated into the district court file, but the parties do not dispute that it was there.  The ALJ who presided over the license revocation confirmed that she obtained appellant’s address from the district court file she used to conduct the hearing.  The majority opinion finds a transfiguration when “under the exception for records of the judiciary, once appellant’s address became a part of the district court file, the data practice act no longer governed its disclosure, improper or otherwise.”

“Improper or otherwise.”  This is what is so troubling.  It appears that we are now in a position to give imprimatur to the admittedly improper act of a judicial officer: Adding insult to injury.  It is especially sensitive because this ALJ is not an elected official subject to direct public control by ballot.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has already expressed reservation about the entire scheme, which created administrative child-support-review officers, by saying:

     Under the criteria by which our court has measured the constitutional validity of specific statutory schemes, the administrative child support process raises grave separation of powers concerns.  With its creation of the administrative process, the legislature has delegated to an executive agency the district court’s inherent equitable power.  This delegation infringes on the district court’s original jurisdiction.  Not only are ALJs given responsibilities and powers comparable to a district court, but ALJs also have the power to modify district court decisions.


Holmberg v. Holmberg, 588 N.W.2d 720, 725-26 (Minn. 1999).  The court prevised this concern by specifically saying:

     Finally, although appellants encourage us to rely on the availability of appellate review to conclude that there is adequate judicial supervision of the administrative process, the right to appellate review does not provide sufficient judicial oversight of this mandatory, albeit piecemeal, process.


Id. at 726.

Appellant went to great length to preclude Mickow from obtaining her address.  In 1995, when Mickow obtained her address, she even changed residences.  Twice she filed for the protection of the data, indicating that she was adamant about not wanting him to have her address.  The information was private and should have stayed private no matter where it found its place within government records.  She relied on the responsibility and discretion of the government and its officers for protection.  We failed, and she suffered.  If there is no legal recourse, she is at least owed words of explanation and apology.


*  Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The district court also granted summary judgment to respondents on appellant’s claims of invasion of privacy.  Appellant has not challenged this aspect of the decision on appeal, and we therefore do not address those claims.  See Melina v. Chaplin, 327 N.W.2d 19, 20 (Minn. 1982) (holding issues not briefed on appeal are waived).