may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Allstate Insurance Company,
State of Minnesota,
Dr. Keith Chilgren,
Filed April 27, 1999
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C9984854
Eric J. Magnuson, Todd P. Zettler, Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel, LLP, 2000 Metropolitan Centre, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Nancy Bode, Assistant Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2131 (for respondent State of Minnesota)
Kevin J. Short, 333 South Seventh Street, Suite 2890, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Dr. Keith Chilgren)
Timothy D. Kelly, Jennifer L. Frisch, Kelly & Berens, P.A., 3720 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondents Patient Intervenors)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
Appellant Allstate Insurance Company contends the district court erred by denying access to medical records obtained by respondent State of Minnesota during a criminal investigation. Respondents state and intervening patients argue that under the Data Practices Act the district court properly determined the records were confidential. We affirm.
The construction of a statute is a question of law and thus fully reviewable by an appellate court. Hibbing Educ. Ass'n v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985). See State v. Renneke, 563 N.W.2d 335, 337 (Minn. App. 1997) (applying de novo review to construction of the Data Practices Act). Where the trial court weighs the equities in a balancing test the appropriate standard of review is the abuse of discretion standard. Krmpotich v. City of Duluth, 483, N.W.2d 55, 57 (Minn. 1992). Abuse of discretion review also applies to decisions regarding discovery. Erickson v. MacArthur, 414 N.W.2d 406, 407 (Minn. 1987).
decide whether the benefit to the party seeking access to the data outweighs any harm to the confidentiality interests * * * of any person who has provided the data or who is the subject of the data, or to the privacy interest of an individual identified in the data.
Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 6.
Appellant contends the data at issue is discoverable. See Snyker v. Snyker, 245 Minn. 405, 408, 72 N.W.2d 357, 359 (1955) (allowing plaintiff access to defendant physician's log records so long as certain protective measures were followed). Assuming that at least some of the data obtained by the state is relevant and not privileged, we review the district court's application of a balancing test which concluded the patient's confidentiality rights and expectations outweighed appellant's interest in pursuing a civil suit. See Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 6.
Appellant contends the district court erred because a balancing test favors granting access to the files where the benefit of allowing appellant to pursue a civil action for fraud outweighs any possible harm to the subjects of the data. We disagree. The records at issue include information that a patient would expect to be kept confidential, including identifying data and personal diagnoses. The release of this information could be, as respondents contend, "humiliating, distressful, demeaning, and damaging." Further, as the district court noted, allowing more people to have access to the data increases the likelihood that the patient's privacy will be invaded. We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the balancing test weighed in favor of not disclosing the information.
[I]nvestigative data collected or created by a law enforcement agency in order to prepare a case against a person, whether known or unknown, for the commission of a crime or other offense * * * is confidential or protected nonpublic while the investigation is active. Inactive investigative data is public unless the release of the data would jeopardize another ongoing investigation or would reveal the identity of individuals protected under subdivision 10.
Minn. Stat. § 13.82, subd. 5 (1998). An investigation becomes inactive upon the occurrence of any of the following events:
(a) a decision by the agency or appropriate prosecutorial authority not to pursue the case;
(b) expiration of the time to bring a charge or file a complaint under the applicable statute of limitations, or 30 years after the commission of the offense, whichever comes earliest; or
(c) exhaustion of or expiration of all rights of appeal by a person convicted on the basis of the investigative data.
Minn. Stat. § 13.82, subd. 5.
Appellant contends that because it received a letter from the state indicating the state's investigation of the defendant doctor was "complete," the prosecution has decided not to pursue the case and therefore, subsection (a) of the statute applies. We disagree. The record indicates the state characterized the investigation as "complete" because the doctor agreed to a pretrial diversion, under which he is required to pay $250,000. In a pretrial diversion, prosecution is "suspended" for a period after which it will be dismissed if certain conditions are met. See Minn. R. Crim P. 27.05, subd. 1. Here, prosecution of the doctor's case has been suspended for five years. If the doctor does not meet his obligations under the agreement, the state is free to resume his prosecution. By agreeing to a pretrial diversion, the state is in effect suspending the investigation until such time as the file is closed or the prosecution is resumed. Therefore, we conclude the investigation of the doctor is not inactive and the data is not public and subject to release under Minn. Stat. § 13.82, subd. 5.
On receipt of a written request, the prosecuting authority shall release investigative data collected by a law enforcement agency to the victim of a criminal act or alleged criminal act or to the victim's legal representative unless the release to the individual subject of the data would be prohibited under section 13.391 or the prosecuting authority reasonably believes:
(a) that the release of that data will interfere with the investigation; or
(b) that the request is prompted by a desire on the part of the requester to engage in unlawful activities.
Minn. Stat. § 13.82, subd. 6 (1998). The problem of victim access is particularly acute
when the victim * * * may want and even need access to the investigative data to begin assessing or preparing a civil case against the alleged perpetrator.
In re Quinn, 517 N.W.2d 895, 899-900 (1994) (quoting Donald A. Gemberling & Gary A. Weissman, Data Privacy: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act - from "A" to "Z", 8 Wm. Mitch. L. Rev., 573, 646 (1982)).
Respondent patient intervenors, who are not Allstate policyholders, contend this subsection does not apply to the release of their medical records because appellant is only a victim of alleged fraud involving Allstate policyholders. We agree. A reasonable construction of the statute is that it allows victims access to investigative data of crimes against them, not to investigative data regarding crimes against others. Here, the record indicates appellant has obtained signed releases for the medical records of its insureds. Although appellant wants records from patients other than its insureds to establish the manner in which it was defrauded, for purposes of the statute appellant is not a victim of acts against persons it does not insure. We therefore conclude the district court properly denied appellant access to the medical records of patients who are not Allstate policyholders.