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Westrom v. State Dep't of Labor and Industry

August 11, 2003

TORREY WESTROM, APPELLANT (C0-03-128) DENNIS WESTROM, ET AL., APPELLANTS (C0-03-129),
v.
MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRY, RESPONDENT.



Ramsey County District Court File Nos. CX021628, C8021627

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Parker, Judge.*fn1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Data in an order or an objection created pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.181, subd. 3(a) or (b) (2002), are civil investigative data under Minn. Stat. § 13.39, subd. 2(a).

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

Reversed and remanded

OPINION

In these consolidated appeals from summary judgments, appellants argue that the district court erred when it ruled that documents that the Department of Labor and Industry released to the news media concerning appellants' alleged violations of the workers'-compensation law are public data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), Minn. Stat. ch. 13 (2002). We reverse and remand.

FACTS

On March 25 and September 24, 1998, the Department of Labor and Industry (department) issued an order and an amended order to comply and penalty assessments (orders) to Dennis, Torey, and Trevor Westrom and their companies.*fn2 The orders were based on a determination that appellants had violated the workers'-compensation law by not maintaining workers'-compensation insurance. The orders assessed monetary penalties for the violations and required appellants to obtain insurance. On April 22 and October 1, 1998, appellants filed objections to the orders. Appellants asserted that Dennis and Torrey Westrom did not direct or control activities of the employees and should be dismissed as individual respondents. They also asserted that one of the companies, WBC Construction, had no employees for whom workers'-compensation insurance was required.

In response to media requests during mid to late October 1998, the department released the orders and the objections filed by appellants to various news organizations, which then published information from the documents. The published information apparently drew heightened attention because, at the time, appellant Torrey Westrom was running for re-election as a state representative in the general election to be held on November 3, 1998.

In two separate actions, appellants sued the department, alleging that the department violated the MGDPA when it released the orders and the objections. The department moved for summary judgment. The district court concluded that the data released by the department are public data and granted summary judgment in favor of the department and dismissed the underlying actions. This court consolidated the appeals from the summary judgments in both actions.

ISSUE

Are the data in the documents that the department released to the news organizations ...


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