STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Allen Baldwin, Jr., et al.,
Independent School District No. 2687,
Filed July 14, 1998
Reversed and remanded
Wright County District Court
File No. C7971654
*Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.
Marshall H. Tanick, Teresa J. Ayling, Mansfield & Tanick, P.A., 1560 International Centre, 900 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402-3383 (for appellants)
Patrick J. Flynn, Jennifer K. Anderson, Knutson, Flynn, Deans & Olsen, 1900 Minnesota World Trade Center, 30 South Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellants Allan Baldwin, Jr., and Kathleen Baldwin appeal the district court's denial of costs and attorney fees under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. § 13. Because we conclude that the district court applied the incorrect standard in denying fees and costs, we reverse and remand.
Appellants were granted summary judgment in their suit against respondent school district for disclosure of information generated by the district regarding their son's suicide. After they prevailed on the merits, they sought attorney fees and costs. The district court denied the motion, finding:
1. Because of the unique circumstances and history of this case, an absence of an award of attorney fees would not affect the general public's incentive to pursue their rights under the Data Practices Act.
2. The Court finds that an award of attorney fees is not appropriate in this case.
The court made no additional findings and did not issue a memorandum.
D E C I S I O N
Costs and attorney fees are recoverable in an action for damages or to compel compliance with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Minn. Stat. § 13.08, subds. 1, 4 (1996). The prevailing party in a district court action is entitled to costs and reasonable disbursements. Quade & Sons Refrigeration, Inc. v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 510 N.W.2d 256, 260 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Mar. 15, 1994). The court has discretion to determine whether costs are reasonable, but does not have discretion to deny costs and disbursements to the prevailing party. Id.
It is undisputed that appellants prevailed on the merits of their data practices action. The district court's reliance on the uniqueness of this case and the lack of deterrent impact on others seeking enforcement of the data practices act is misplaced and reveals the application of an improper standard. Because appellants prevailed in the district court action, they are entitled to costs and disbursements. Because they prevailed under the data practices act, they are entitled to attorney fees, in addition to the reasonable costs of pursuing the action.
In awarding attorney fees, the district court must (a) make findings on the reasonableness of the hours claimed, in light of the work done, and on the reasonableness of the hourly rate requested, and (b) apply the factors set out by our supreme court in State v. Paulson, 290 Minn. 371, 373, 188 N.W.2d 424, 426 (1971). The court may also base the determination of reasonable attorney fees on its own observation of the services provided. Nelson v. Ninneman, 373 N.W.2d 373 (Minn. App. 1985).
Because the district court denied fees, it did not make findings on the reasonableness of the hours claimed or the rate requested. We remand for consideration of the appropriate factors. See Nelson, 373 N.W.2d at 377 (remanding attorney fees issue in data practices case).
Finally, we award appellants attorney fees and costs for this appeal in the amount of $2,000.
Reversed and remanded.