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Star Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Daily

July 15, 2004

STAR TRIBUNE COMPANY, RESPONDENT,
v.
THE MINNESOTA DAILY, ET AL., RESPONDENTS,
NORTHWEST PUBLICATIONS, INC., RESPONDENT,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA BOARD OF REGENTS, ET AL., APPELLANTS.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

SYLLABUS

The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.90 (2002), and the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, Minn. Stat. §§ 13D.01-.07 (2002), apply to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota in its process of selecting a new University President, and such application does not violate the autonomy granted to the Regents by the Minnesota Constitution.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Russell A., Justice.

Dissenting, Gilbert and Hanson, JJ.

Dissenting, Hanson, J.

Took No Part, Page, J.

Affirmed.

Heard, considered and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

In this case we must determine whether the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.90 (2002), and the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, Minn. Stat. §§ 13D.01-.07 (2002), apply to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota (Regents) in its process of selecting a new University President, and if so, whether such application violates the autonomy granted to the Regents by the Minnesota Constitution. The district court ruled that the Regents' presidential search process was subject to those laws. The court of appeals agreed. We affirm.

In 2002, Mark Yudof announced that he would resign as president of the University of Minnesota effective July 31, 2002. The Regents established a Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) to "recruit, screen and recommend candidates" to succeed Yudof. From those candidates recommended by the PSAC, the Regents would select finalists who would be publicly interviewed and considered by the Regents, as required by the Open Meeting Law and the Board of Regents Bylaws.

In early November 2002, the PSAC completed its work and recommended candidates for the Regents' consideration. At a public meeting on November 4, 2002, the Regents modified the search process by adopting a resolution which indicated that some of the candidates recommended by the PSAC would not be willing to participate in public interviews until they had an opportunity to meet privately with the Regents. According to their resolution, the Regents would not be able to make an informed decision or fulfill their duty to select the most qualified candidate or candidates for president without confidential interviews and confidential deliberations. The Regents' resolution modified the search process to allow confidential interviews with selected candidates and confidential deliberations before meeting publicly to discuss and select the finalist or finalists to be considered for president. The Regents' resolution provided for a public interview process with the finalist or finalists before selection, but suspended the section of the Regents' By-Laws which would have required the Regents to adhere to the Open Meeting Law during the presidential search process.*fn1

Following modification of the search process, the Regents privately interviewed the candidates recommended by the PSAC. On November 6, 2002, the Regents announced that a finalist or finalists for the position of president would be named the following morning, and the next morning, the Regents announced that Robert Bruininks, the University's interim president, was the only finalist. The Regents elected Bruininks as president on November 8, 2002.

On November 8, 2002, various members of the print media (collectively referred to herein as "print media") commenced an action in Hennepin County District Court. The print media alleged that the modified search process violated the Open Meeting Law and the Data Practices Act, and sought an order to compel the Regents to disclose the names and public data of the candidates interviewed by the Regents. The print media's complaint also sought to enjoin the Regents from further violations of the Open Meeting Law.

The parties brought cross-motions in district court, the Regents seeking to dismiss the complaint on grounds that they were not required to comply with either the Open Meeting Law or the Data Practices Act in their presidential search process, and the print media seeking partial summary judgment requiring disclosure of the names and public data of the candidates interviewed. The district court granted the print media's motion for partial summary judgment, ruling that the Regents were required to comply with the Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act. The district court ordered the disclosure of the names and public data of the candidates interviewed by the Regents.

The court of appeals granted the Regents' petition for discretionary review and a stay of the district court's disclosure order, and in the opinion that followed, the court of appeals held that the Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act applied to the Regents' presidential search process and affirmed the district court's order granting partial summary judgment requiring disclosure of the names and public data of the candidates interviewed by the Regents. We granted review and stayed the district court's disclosure order pending our decision. We now affirm and lift the stay.

I.

Our first task is to determine whether the courts below correctly decided that the Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law apply to the Regents as a matter of statutory interpretation. Statutory interpretation is a legal issue which we review de novo. Vlahos v. R&I Constr. of Bloomington, Inc., 676 N.W.2d 672, 679 (Minn. 2004).

A. Data Practices Act.

The Data Practices Act mandates which state and local government records must be accessible to the public. See Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.90 (2002). The act provides that the names of applicants for employment by a state agency are classified as "private data except when * * * considered * * * to be finalists for a position in public employment." Minn. Stat. § 13.43, subd. 3 (emphasis added). "Finalist" is defined as "an individual who is selected to be interviewed by the appointing authority prior to selection." Id. Thus, the candidates interviewed by the Regents were finalists under the terms of the Data Practices Act, and their names and certain other information are public if the act is applicable to the Regents.

The act is applicable to "[a]ll state agencies, political subdivisions and statewide systems." Minn. Stat. § 13.01, subd. 1. "State agency" is defined as "the state, the University of Minnesota, and any office, officer, department, division, bureau, board, commission, authority, district or agency of the state." Minn. Stat. § 13.02, subd. 17 (emphasis added). As the University of Minnesota is expressly included in the act's definition of "state agency," the University of Minnesota falls within the scope of the Data Practices Act.

The Regents nevertheless argue that without more specificity, the Data Practices Act should not be applicable to its presidential search data. They contend that the act is not applicable to the search data because the legislature did not specifically reference university presidential search data and because only the University, and not the Regents, is named in the definition of state agency. We find these arguments to be unpersuasive. The structure of the Data Practices Act generally makes data possessed by identified entities public data, unless the act provides otherwise. Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 1 ("All government data * * * shall be public unless classified by statute, or temporary classification * * * or federal law, as nonpublic or protected nonpublic, or with respect to data on individuals, as private or confidential."). Thus, specific categories of data are expressly addressed in the act in order to create exceptions to the general rule of public availability. In fact, Minn. Stat. § 13.43 accomplishes this with respect to personnel data. That section includes provisions governing data on applicants for government employment and makes data on "finalists" for employment, that is, applicants who have been selected for interviews, public. Minn. Stat. § 13.43, subd. 3. Given the legislature's approach in drafting the Data Practices Act, its silence with regard to the University's presidential selection process more likely indicates intent to subject that process to the requirements of the act than to exclude it.

Furthermore, although the Regents are correct in pointing out that in some statutes the legislature refers to the University and in others it refers specifically to the Regents, examination of the context of those statutes does not support the Regents' conclusion that reference to the "University" in the Data Practices Act definition of state agency means that the Regents are not covered. If anything, the reference to the University instead of the Regents in the Data Practices Act was likely intended to convey a more inclusive meaning that would encompass all the units of the University that might possess data, including the Regents.

B. Open Meeting Law.

The Open Meeting Law generally requires that meetings of state and local governments must be open to the public. Minn. Stat. § 13D.01. Unlike the Data Practices Act, the Open Meeting Law does not expressly mention the University or the Regents. As relevant here, it provides that all meetings, including executive sessions, of the governing body of a "public body" must be open to the public. Minn. Stat. § 13D.01, subd. 1(b)(6). The statute does not define "public body."

The Board of Regents is the governing body of the University of Minnesota. Univ. Charter § 4. The question, then, is whether the University is a "public body" within the terms of the Open Meeting Law. In statutory construction, words are to be given their common meaning. Minn. Stat. § 645.08(1) (2002). In common understanding, "public body" is possibly the broadest expression for the category of governmental entities that perform functions for the public benefit. Additionally, in addressing this issue we must remember that because the Open Meeting Law was ...


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