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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Extracting Government Data

Government information is often at the heart of a dispute.  “Now there’s a new remedy when you are having trouble getting state or local government information.  A statute passed last year—Minn. Stat. §13.085—provides for expedited review of data practices disputes.

Filing the initial complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings requires either a $1,000 filing fee or a bond.  The respondent government entity must file a response in 15 business days, after which the administrative law judge (ALJ) has 20 business days to decide whether there is probable cause to believe the data practices act has been violated.

If the ALJ finds probable cause, an evidentiary hearing follows within 30 business days, after which the judge 1) may dismiss the complaint, or 2) may find there was a violation and order the data produced.  The judge may also impose a civil penalty.  The complainant who substantially prevails may be entitled to attorney fees—up to $5,000—and gets a refund of the filing fee, less $50.  The respondent who fails to prevail must pay the costs of the Office of Administrative Hearings, up to $1,000.  On the other hand, if the complaint is found to be frivolous or to have been brought for purposes of harassment, the judge must order the complainant to pay the respondent’s attorney fees up to $5,000.

This new process goes much more quickly than a contested case hearing or a district court action.  And statutory incentives encourage both the proper release of data and proper requests for data, since whichever side does not prevail may end up paying the other’s attorney fees.

Karen R. Cole

Premium Legal Writing

St. Paul

 

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