Minnesota Department of Administration
Richard T. Wylie, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for relator)
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Nathan J. Hartshorn, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent Minnesota Department of Administration)
Lon Thiele, Steele County Sheriff, Owatonna, Minnesota (pro se respondent)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Stauber, Judge; and Willis, Judge. [*]
1. The Minnesota Department of Administration's authority to dismiss without a contested-case hearing an appeal contesting the accuracy or completeness of government data brought under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 4(a) (2012), is limited to cases in which the commissioner of administration's efforts to resolve the dispute have succeeded, rendering the challenge moot.
2. The department of administration does not have the authority to limit the scope of a data subject's appeal contesting the accuracy or completeness of government data brought under Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 4(a), to the issues and evidence submitted to the responsible authority in the data subject's initial data challenge.
Relator, a government employee, challenges respondent department of administration's rejection of his appeal regarding the accuracy and completeness of information contained in his employment evaluation, arguing that respondent erred by dismissing his appeal without ordering a contested-case hearing and by concluding that an employment evaluation cannot be challenged under the MGDPA. Because the department of administration exceeded its statutory authority by dismissing relator's appeal without ordering a hearing, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Relator Todd Schwanke is a sergeant with the Steele County Sheriff's Office. On February 1, 2012, Schwanke received a generally negative review of his performance for calendar year 2011 from Chief Deputy Scott Hanson. The evaluation rated Schwanke in 15 of 23 possible categories. Schwanke was rated as "below standards" in seven categories, "meets standards" in five categories, "above standards" in two categories, and "exceeds standards" in one category. Each rating was supported by comments referring to specific incidents, performance data, or patterns of behavior.
Schwanke submitted a challenge to the accuracy or completeness of the evaluation to respondent Sheriff Lon Thiele, the responsible authority for the data under the MGDPA. See Minn. Stat. §§ 13.02, subd. 16(b), .04, subd. 4(a) (2012). Schwanke challenged each negative rating, referred to supplemental materials to support his claims, and challenged the accuracy of several comments. Thiele responded that "the evaluation was given thorough consideration, " that he supported the conclusions of the original evaluation, and that therefore the evaluation was "complete."
Schwanke appealed the sheriff's determination to the department of administration under Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 4(a), and filed an accompanying statement of dispute that included approximately 300 pages of exhibits. Though the parties dispute whether any of these materials were provided to the sheriff in Schwanke's original challenge, Schwanke acknowledges that his appeal to the department of administration raised claims and included exhibits that had not been submitted to the sheriff. In a phone call to Schwanke, the department of administration stated that it would not consider any claims or exhibits that were not part of Schwanke's initial challenge.
The department of administration subsequently sent a letter to Schwanke refusing to accept his appeal. Respondent stated that a data challenge was "not the proper venue to challenge a government entity's policies and procedures." The letter further stated that it was improper for Schwanke "to challenge the thoughts, impressions, perceptions, observations, and/or opinions made by a supervisor contained in a performance evaluation." Respondent concluded that Schwanke should consult his employment contract and ...