This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Michael Joseph Seeber,
Rice County Administrator, et al.,
Filed October 12, 2004
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C2-03-000-483
Michael J. Seeber, 415 East Belmont Lane, Maplewood, MN 55117 (pro se appellant)
Scott T. Anderson, Sonya J. Guggemos, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A., 300 U.S. Trust Building, 730 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge
Appellant Michael Seeber sought disclosure of all information retained by Rice County Social Services pertaining to his daughter N.E.S. But the county does not maintain a file related to N.E.S. Rather, N.E.S. is incidentally referred to in a file concerning K.M.R., appellant’s ex-wife and the mother of N.E.S. For that reason, the county denied appellant’s requests for access. Subsequently, appellant requested an advisory opinion regarding the denial of access to the county’s information; the Minnesota Department of Administration directed the county to release redacted copies to appellant of all incidental references regarding N.E.S. Thereafter, appellant sought full access to K.M.R.’s file, but the county denied appellant’s request. Appellant filed an action in Ramsey County District Court to compel Rice County to release K.M.R.’s file. Following an in-camera review of the file, the district court concluded there were no undisclosed references to N.E.S. contained in K.M.R.’s file. Appellant was denied further access to the file. We affirm.
On July 22, 2002, appellant requested that Rice County Social Services divulge information regarding the application of K.M.R., his former wife, for welfare benefits. Specifically, appellant requested all information pertaining to his daughter, N.E.S. Rice County does not maintain a file on N.E.S., but K.M.R.’s file does contain incidental references to N.E.S. in relation to K.M.R.’s request for welfare benefits.
On July 24, 2002, appellant telephoned Rice County requesting information related to the application for welfare benefits filed by K.M.R. Thereafter, county staff returned appellant’s message, and the county informed appellant it could not release information to anyone but the applicant without the applicant’s written permission. County staff also informed appellant they were not permitted to confirm or deny the existence of any such application.
Appellant contacted Rice County on or about August 21, 2002, again seeking information regarding N.E.S. contained in K.M.R.’s file. In a letter dated August 21, 2002, the county responded to appellant’s request, denying access to any information and further stating that the county could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any confidential information.
On September 23, 2002, the Minnesota Department of Administration (MNDOA) received a request from appellant seeking an advisory opinion regarding the denial of access to Rice County’s information regarding N.E.S. The MNDOA contacted Rice County, requesting a response to appellant’s allegations, and the county’s attorney complied. Thereafter the MNDOA issued order 02-042 on November 12, 2002, advising Rice County to release to appellant all information pertaining to N.E.S.
The county later disclosed redacted copies of K.M.R.’s file containing information related to N.E.S. But appellant objected to being allowed to view only the redacted file. On November 27, 2002, the county again stated it would not allow appellant to view the entire file because it contained information regarding a private party and did not contain further information about N.E.S. On December 3, 2002, appellant again demanded access to the entire file, as well as seeking the termination of benefits to N.E.S. The county responded that appellant was not entitled to full access to the county file, and appellant had no authority to seek the termination the welfare benefits of another.
Appellant brought an action seeking full access to the file, and following an in-camera review of the file and a motion for summary judgment brought by the county, the district court dismissed appellant’s claims. This appeal followed.
“On an appeal from summary judgment, we ask two questions: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the lower courts erred in their application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). “A motion for summary judgment shall be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that either party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).
The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) “regulates the collection, creation, storage, maintenance, dissemination, and access to government data in state agencies, statewide systems, and political subdivisions.” Minn. Stat. § 13.01, subd. 3 (2002). Furthermore, the MGDPA allows public access to all government data unless barred by federal or state law, or if the information is classified as private data. Id.; Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 1 (2002). Here, the file maintained by Rice County Social Services constitutes private data protected from public dissemination. See Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01, 13.03, 13.46, 13.462. Specifically, “data on individuals collected, maintained, used, or disseminated by the welfare system is private data on individuals, and shall not be disclosed” unless the information falls within a narrow set of exceptions. Minn. Stat. § 13.46, subd. 2 (2002). Such private data may only be accessed by authorized personnel in accord with the exceptions set forth in Minn. Stat. § 13.46, subdivision 2, or by the individual subject of the data. Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 3 (2002).
Here, it is undisputed that the data contained in the Rice County Social Services file is private data in accord with the MGDPA. Additionally, none of the exceptions stated in Minn. Stat. § 13.46, subdivision 2, apply in this case. Appellant asserts he has the right to access the file because it contains information related to his daughter, N.E.S. See Minn. Stat. § 13.02, subd. 8 (2002) (defining “individual” as including the parent or guardian of a minor). An individual, including the parent of a minor, shall,
[u]pon request to a responsible authority … be informed whether the individual is the subject of stored data on individuals, and whether it is classified as public, private or confidential. Upon further request, an individual who is the subject of stored private or public data on individuals shall be shown the data without any charge and, if desired, shall be informed of the content and meaning of that data.
Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 3. But such data must be classified as “data on individuals” in order for appellant to gain access as the parent of a minor. Minn. Stat. §13.02, subd. 5. Section 13.02, subdivision 5, provides:
“Data on individuals” means all government data in which any individual is or can be identified as the subject of that data, unless the appearance of the name or other identifying data can be clearly demonstrated to be only incidental to the data and the data are not accessed by the name or other identifying data of any individual.
Id. (emphasis added).
Here, the information contained in the file certainly falls within the definition of “data on individuals.” But K.M.R. is the individual who is the subject of the data, not N.E.S. The name of N.E.S. only appears in the file incidentally in relation to K.M.R.’s benefits application. Therefore, because any references to N.E.S. are “only incidental to the data and the data [is] not accessed by the name or other identifying data of” N.E.S., appellant is not entitled to access the remaining portions of K.M.R.’s file. Id.
The district court accurately observed in its December 19, 2003, order that appellant’s request to access K.M.R.’s file fails even if the data is deemed to be “data on individuals.” Furthermore, the district court correctly held that while respondents may have previously released information from K.M.R’s file in reliance on the MNDOA’s erroneous advisory opinion, respondents were not required to release the remaining portions of K.M.R.’s file to appellant. The district court based this order not only on the applicable law but also on an in-camera review of the county’s file. Following this review, the district court determined there was no further information pertaining to N.E.S. contained in the K.M.R. file.
Because appellant has received the information for which he is entitled, no further genuine issues of material fact remain to be decided, and respondents are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We affirm the district court.