This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Jaye B. Clearwater,
Independent School District No. 166,
Filed October 2, 2001
Cook County District Court
File No. C999204
Peter J. Nickitas, Nickitas Law Office, 28 Orme Court, St. Paul, MN 55116 (for appellant)
Jerome D. Feriancek, Thibodeau, Johnson & Feriancek, PLLP, 800 Lonsdale Building, 302 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant, a teacher who was asked to resign because of her repeated tardiness, sued respondent school district, claiming violations of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. The district court granted summary judgment to respondent, concluding that appellant lacked standing under the data-practices act and that, although respondent violated the open-meeting law, appellant was not entitled to any damages. Appellant challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment. By notice of review, respondent challenges the district court’s conclusion that it violated the open-meeting law. Because the district court did not err in its application of the law, we affirm.
From 1981 until 1995, appellant Jaye Clearwater was employed as a teacher at the Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School in Independent School District No. 166 (“ISD 166” or “the district”). In March 1993, she began a pattern of arriving late to school. Despite oral and written warnings, Clearwater’s tardiness continued. In May 1993, she was suspended for five days but was allowed to return to work provided that she report to the principal each morning. She was also advised that any further tardiness would result in termination of her employment. In response, Clearwater filed grievances against the district.
After she arrived late to work on two occasions in early June 1993, Sawtooth’s principal recommended to Superintendent Donald Langan that the district transfer Clearwater to a school closer to her home and, if she did not agree to being transferred, that the district should terminate her employment. A representative of the Minnesota Education Association negotiated an agreement between Clearwater and the district under which she was allowed to remain at Sawtooth in exchange for dropping her grievances and committing to arrive at school on time.
Despite this agreement, other incidents of tardiness followed. The school board scheduled pre-termination hearings for November 1993 and January 1994; both were cancelled when the union interceded on Clearwater’s behalf. In March 1994, Clearwater signed an agreement with the district that specified arrival times and provided for automatic pay deductions for late arrivals. She also agreed that six late arrivals would result in the district “proceeding with automatic and immediate termination” of her employment.
After the district documented six late arrivals, Langan sent Clearwater notice of the district’s intent to terminate her employment. But at the beginning of the 1994-95 school year, the district and Clearwater entered into a “last-chance agreement” under which the district agreed to suspend termination proceedings and Clearwater agreed to arrive on time and confirm her arrival by punching a time clock. The agreement also provided that if Clearwater was late five or more times, she would resign voluntarily or consent to termination without a hearing. After six more late arrivals, Clearwater was asked to resign, as provided by the agreement.
The school board considered the issue of Clearwater’s resignation at a January 9, 1995, meeting. Neither Clearwater’s nor the district’s attorney was present at the meeting. Clearwater requested that the meeting be kept open. Despite her request, the school board closed the meeting, citing “data-privacy” concerns. During the closed portion of the meeting, the board voted to demand Clearwater’s resignation. When the meeting was reopened, Clearwater submitted her letter of resignation. The meeting was videotaped for broadcast on the Grand Marais public-access television channel.
Clearwater requested access to her personnel file, which was provided to her. She also requested a copy of the videotape of the school-board meeting. District staff were unable to locate the videotape at the school; in the possession of Harold Nelson, who had videotaped school-board meetings for the Grand Marais public-access channel; or at the local high-school library, where videotapes of board meetings were stored after being broadcast.
In April 1997, Clearwater filed suit against Langan and the district in federal court, claiming race discrimination, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and violations of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. The federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Clearwater’s federal- and state-law claims of race and gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The court declined to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction and dismissed without prejudice Clearwater’s claims of violations of the data-practices act and open-meeting law.
In March 1998, at Clearwater’s request, Harold Nelson searched several boxes of videotapes that were in his possession. In a box of videotapes that he had worked on for the United States Forest Service, he found the videotape of the January 9, 1995, school-board meeting and a few other videotapes from the school district.
In December 1999, Clearwater filed a complaint in state court alleging that ISD 166 violated (1) the data-practices act by not timely providing her with the videotape and (2) the open-meeting law by closing the January 9, 1995, meeting after she requested that it remain open. Following a hearing on the parties’ motions for summary judgment, the district court denied Clearwater’s motion and granted the district’s motion, concluding that Clearwater did not have standing to pursue her data-practices-act claim against the district and that, although the district had violated the open-meeting law, Clearwater was not entitled to any relief. The district court denied Clearwater’s motion for reconsideration. Clearwater appeals, and, by notice of review, ISD 166 challenges the district court’s determination that it violated the open-meeting law.
Clearwater challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment to ISD 166. On appeal from summary judgment, the reviewing court must determine (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993). This court reviews the evidence “in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.” Id. (citation omitted).
Clearwater contends that the district court erred in concluding that she lacked standing to pursue a claim against ISD 166 under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.99 (2000). “Standing is a prerequisite to a court’s exercise of jurisdiction.” In re Petition for Improvement of County Ditch No. 86, 625 N.W.2d 813, 817 (Minn. 2001) (citation omitted). A party acquires standing either (1) by suffering some injury-in-fact or (2) as the beneficiary of some express statutory authority granting standing. Id.
The data-practices act permits a range of civil remedies for violations of the act but limits the class of potential plaintiffs to persons who suffer “any damage as a result of the violation.” Minn. Stat. § 13.08. Clearwater failed to allege any damage that she suffered as a result of the school board not providing her with a copy of the videotape. She argued that the videotape was important to her case because it showed that she requested an open meeting and that Superintendent Langan denied this request, but the district does not deny these facts. Further, the videotape was found in March 1998; Clearwater did not file her complaint in state court until December 1999. The district court did not, therefore, err in concluding that Clearwater lacked standing to pursue a claim under the data-practices act.
By notice of review, the district challenges the district court’s determination that it violated the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, Minn. Stat. §§ 13D.01-.07 (2000), by closing the January 9, 1995, school-board meeting.
Under the open-meeting law, a covered entity
[m]ay close a meeting to evaluate the performance of an individual who is subject to its authority. * * * A meeting must be open at the request of the individual who is the subject of the meeting.
Minn. Stat. § 13D.05, subd. 3(a). Here, after the school-board chairman announced his intention to close the meeting to discuss Clearwater’s resignation, Clearwater requested that the meeting be kept open. The district argues that it was justified in closing the meeting despite Clearwater’s request because of the “ongoing legal dispute” between Clearwater and the district. The data-practices act creates an exception to the open-meeting law under which data on individuals are classified as confidential when they are collected “as part of an active investigation undertaken for the purpose of the commencement or defense of a pending civil legal action” or “retained in anticipation of a pending civil legal action.” Minn. Stat. § 13.39, subd. 2; see also McDevitt v. Tilson, 453 N.W.2d 53, 56 (Minn. App. 1990) (explaining that to the extent that open-meeting law and section 13.39 may conflict, “section 13.39 takes precedence in order that portions of discussions or material constituting private data remain that way”), review denied (Minn. May 23, 1990). A “‘pending civil action’ includes but is not limited to judicial, administrative or arbitration proceedings.” Minn. Stat. § 13.39, subd. 1 (2000). “Whether a civil legal action is pending shall be determined by the chief attorney” acting for the public body. Id.
The district contends that, at the time of the January 9, 1995, school-board meeting, a civil legal action was pending between Clearwater and the district regarding the “last-chance agreement,” for violation of which Clearwater was asked to resign. In support of this assertion, the district points to a November 2000 affidavit from the attorney who represented the district at the time of the meeting, in which he attests:
1. I was the chief attorney representing ISD 166 with respect to the dispute involving Jaye Clearwater on and before January 9, 1995.
2. During this dispute, administrative hearings and arbitration proceedings were contemplated and scheduled on at least three separate occasions.
3. Given the adversarial nature of the situation, and the fact that Ms. Clearwater was represented by counsel, the dispute must be deemed a pending civil litigation.
But while section 13.39 leaves it to the discretion of the chief attorney to determine whether a civil legal action is pending, we conclude that it does not envision this sort of after-the-fact rationalization. The statute refers to the chief attorney’s determination of whether “a civil legal action is pending,” not of whether, five years before the determination is made, a civil legal action was pending. Minn. Stat. § 13.39, subd. 1 (emphasis added). We conclude that the district court did not err in determining that ISD 166 violated the open-meeting law.
Clearwater argues that the district court erred in not (1) imposing a civil penalty on the district for its violation of the open-meeting law, (2) enjoining closure of future school-board meetings, and (3) assessing costs, disbursements, and reasonable attorney fees against the district. In the memorandum accompanying its August 2000 order, the court noted that it had the discretion to award civil remedies under the open-meeting law, but that because Clearwater had “failed to show any damages attributable to” the school-district’s violation, it declined to do so.
The section of the open-meeting law addressing civil penalties provides:
Any person who intentionally violates this chapter shall be subject to personal liability in the form of a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed $300 for a single occurrence, which may not be paid by the public body.
Minn. Stat. § 13D.06, subd. 1. The district argues that the court had no authority to impose a civil penalty under this section because the school district is not a “person.” Clearwater argues that “person,” as used in the open-meeting law, extends to bodies such as the school board, citing Minn. Stat. § 645.44, subd. 7 (2000). The open-meeting law does not define the term “person” as used in that chapter. Section 645.44 provides that the word “person,” when used in Minnesota statutes, “may extend and be applied to bodies politic” but only where another intention does not “clearly appear[ ].” Id., subds. 1, 7 (2000). The civil-penalties provision of the open-meeting law explicitly provides that the fine for a person’s violation may not be paid by the public body. Minn. Stat. § 13D.06, subd. 1. Further, if a person is found to have intentionally violated the open-meeting law in three or more actions involving the same governing body, that person
shall forfeit any further right to serve on such governing body or in any other capacity with such public body for a period of time equal to the term of office such person was then serving.
Id., subd. 3(a). It is clear from these provisions that the term “person” as used in the civil-penalties provision of the open-meeting law refers only to natural persons, not to public bodies such as the school district. Clearwater filed suit only against the school district and not against any member of the school board or any other natural person. Therefore, there was no basis to impose a civil penalty under the open-meeting law.
Clearwater argues that the court erred in failing to enjoin the school district from further violations of the open-meeting law. On appeal from the denial of injunctive relief, the reviewing court must view the facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party and determine whether the district court abused its discretion. Minn. Daily v. Univ. of Minn., 432 N.W.2d 189, 190-91 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Jan. 25, 1989). While the open-meeting law is “devoid of any authorization or directions for injunctive relief,” the supreme court has concluded that it may be appropriate for a district court to grant an injunction under that law. Channel 10, Inc. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 709, 298 Minn. 306, 317-18, 215 N.W.2d 814, 823 (1974). But the Channel 10 court cautioned that such injunctions must serve the “policy and purposes expressed by the legislature” and that they must be “so tailored that the defendant knows with some reasonable degree of certainty what it is restrained from doing.” Id. at 317, 325-26, 215 N.W.2d at 823, 827-28. Here, the district court did not address Clearwater’s request for injunctive relief. But we infer from its grant of summary judgment to the district that it denied the request. In her complaint, Clearwater requested that the district court enjoin the district to “open closed School Board meetings.” But neither in her complaint nor in subsequent legal memoranda did she indicate why, five years after a single school-board meeting was improperly closed, an injunction against closed meetings was needed or how such an injunction in the circumstances here would serve the policy or purposes of the open-meeting law. We conclude that the district court did not, therefore, abuse its discretion in not granting an injunction.
Finally, Clearwater argues that the district court erred in denying her request for costs, disbursements, and attorney fees. Clearwater argues that she is entitled to costs and disbursements because the district court determined that the district violated the open-meeting law. District courts are required to grant costs and disbursements to the prevailing party in a civil action. See Minn. Stat. §§ 549.02, .04 (2000); Quade & Sons Refrigeration, Inc. v. Minn. Mining & Mfg. Co., 510 N.W.2d 256, 260 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Mar. 15, 1994). For purposes of determining entitlement to an award of costs and disbursements, “[t]he prevailing party in any action is one in whose favor the decision or verdict is rendered and judgment entered.” Borchert v. Maloney, 581 N.W.2d 838, 840 (Minn. 1998). Here, while the court concluded that the district violated the open-meeting law, it also granted summary judgment to the district. Because the district was the prevailing party, the court did not err in not granting Clearwater an award of costs and disbursements.
A reviewing court will not reverse a district court’s award or denial of attorney fees absent an abuse of discretion. Becker v. Alloy Hardfacing & Eng’g Co., 401 N.W.2d. 655, 661 (Minn. 1987). The open-meeting law provides that, in addition to other remedies, the district court “may award reasonable costs, disbursements, and reasonable attorney fees of up to $13,000 to any party in an action under this chapter.” Minn. Stat. § 13D.06, subd. 4(a). In the memorandum accompanying its August 2000 order, the district court noted that it had the authority to award attorney fees, but it did not address directly Clearwater’s request for attorney fees in either its order or its memorandum. The open-meeting law provides that the court may award attorney fees to a defendant “only if the court finds that the action * * * was frivolous and without merit.” Id., subd. 4(b). But it does not require the court to make findings in granting or denying attorney fees to a plaintiff or set conditions on which those fees may be granted. And here, because we determine that Clearwater was entitled to no other relief, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in not awarding attorney fees to Clearwater.
 Clearwater appealed, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. See Clearwater v. I.S.D. 166, 231 F.3d 1122, 1126-28 (8th Cir. 2000).
 The supreme court has stated that the purposes of the open-meeting law are: (1) “to assure the public’s right to be informed,” id. at 313, 215 N.W.2d at 821; (2) to “prohibit actions being taken at a secret meeting where it is impossible for the interested public to become fully informed” about the public body’s decisions “or to detect improper influences,” Lindahl v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 306, 270 Minn. 164, 167, 133 N.W.2d 23, 26 (1965); and (3) “to afford the public an opportunity to present its views” to the covered entity, Sullivan v. Credit River Township, 299 Minn. 170, 175, 217 N.W.2d 502, 506 (1974) (quotation omitted).