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Tribune v. City of St. Paul

May 13, 2003


Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-C2-01-4142

Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.


1. The data sought by respondent is private personnel data because it was collected to evaluate the performance of individual officers. As such, it is not subject to disclosure under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

2. The statute does not mandate a grant of attorney fees in the Data Practices Act cases. The district court legitimately exercised discretion when it did not award attorney fees to respondent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randall, Judge

Affirmed in part and reversed in part


Respondent Star Tribune brought an action against the City of St. Paul under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat.. ch. 13 (2002), seeking access to information the St. Paul Police Department gathered regarding racial profiling in traffic stops from April to December 2000. While the City made a summary report public, the officer/squad identity information in the raw data was not disclosed based on the City's conclusion that personal identity information was"personnel data" designated as private under Minn. Stat.. § 13.43 (2002). Respondent initiated this declaratory judgment action, arguing the officer's individual names were public data. The district court concluded that the identities were public data and granted respondent summary judgment. The City appeals this determination. In addition, respondent seeks review of the district court's denial of its motion for attorney fees. Because we conclude that the officers are the subjects of the data, we reverse in part. We agree with the district court that attorney fees were not warranted and, therefore, we affirm that determination.


The City of Saint Paul (the City) conducted a study of traffic stops (the Study) by the Police Department (the Department) between April 15, 2000, and December 15, 2000. The resulting data set contained information from 41,249 traffic stops. The City already records a wide variety of data concerning each traffic stop that is public data. The Study added four additional pieces of data for each stop, which were the officer's responses to the following questions (with the possible answers listed in parentheses):

Perceived race of individual stopped?: (W)hite, (B)lack, (H)ispanic, (A)sian, or (N)ative American.

Sex?: (F)emale or (M)ale

Was the driver frisked?: (Y)es or (N)o

Was the car searched?: (Y)es or (N)o

The answers to these four questions were then combined with the general traffic stop source data that the Department already collected. The Study data was used to generate a report titled Summary Report for Traffic Stop Data (the Summary Report). The City made the Summary report available to the media in early January 2001. The Summary Report did not contain the Study data itself, but, instead, various summary statistics drawn from the Study data.

The Department hired the Institute on Race and Poverty to conduct an analysis of the raw Study data to attempt to determine whether the Department engages in racial profiling and, if so, what the dimensions of the problem are; and to formulate suggestions for improvement to the Department's data collection program that will allow for more comprehensive analysis of future data.

On January 10, 2001, respondent Star Tribune requested that the Department provide all the fields in the Study data, including the officer employee/squad data (collectively, the Complete data). What the respondent wanted was the individual names of the officers making the stops. In response, on January 23, the Department sent respondent a document titled, St. Paul Police Incident Data Available on Computer, which listed data fields, but did not contain individual names and identities.

Respondent sent a letter dated February 16, 2001, requesting the Complete data. In a letter dated March 26, 2001, Chief of Police Finney responded that access to the officer employee/squad data (identities by name) was denied. Finney contended that without the officer employee/squad data, the Study data was legitimate"summary data" under Minn. Stat.. §á13.02, subd. 19 (2002), and that the officer employee/squad data entries are classified as private"personnel data" under Minn. Stat. § 13.43, subd. 4 (2002). Chief Finney also stated the City would seek an advisory opinion, which it attempted to do.

On May 4, 2001, respondent brought this declaratory action. Due to respondent's pending litigation, the Commissioner of Administration declined ...

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