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Scheffler v. City of Anoka

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

February 6, 2017

Troy K. Scheffler, Appellant,
City of Anoka, et al., Respondents, City of Coon Rapids, et al., Defendants, Hicken, Scott, Howard & Anderson, P. A., et al., Respondents.

         Anoka County District Court File No. 02-CV-15-2550

          Peter J. Nickitas, Peter J. Nickitas Law Office, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Anna L. Yunker, Pamela L. VanderWiel, Everett & VanderWiel, Rosemount, Minnesota (for respondent City of Anoka)

          Paul C. Peterson, William L. Davidson, João C. Medeiros, Lind, Jensen, Sullivan & Peterson, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondents Hicken, Scott, Howard & Anderson, P.A. and Michael Scott)

          Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Jesson, Judge.


         I. Minnesota Statutes sections 13.03, subdivision 3, and 13.04, subdivision 3 (2016) of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act require the release of government data only when the requestor makes his data-access request to the government entity's responsible authority or designee.

         II. A government entity is not liable for alleged violations of Minnesota Statutes sections 13.03, subdivision 3, or 13.04, subdivision 3, if the data requestor did not make a request to the government entity's responsible authority or designee and the responsible authority or designee did not receive the data request.

         III. The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act does not recognize responsible authorities or designees by operation of apparent authority.


          ROSS, Judge

         Precipitating this data-practices action, appellant Troy Scheffler was the subject of a police report and a supplemental report. After he unsuccessfully requested a copy of the supplement, Scheffler sued the City of Anoka along with its contracted city attorney and the city attorney's law firm for allegedly violating the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. The attorney and firm moved to dismiss, and the city moved for summary judgment. Scheffler then asked the city's responsible authority and designee for the supplement, and he received it. After he moved to amend his complaint, the district court partially granted Scheffler's motion but dismissed the amended complaint against the attorney and his firm, and it granted summary judgment to the city. Because Scheffler did not direct his initial requests to the specified responsible authority or designee as required by the data practices act, because the attorney was acting in a professional capacity for the city and therefore not subject to the act, because there was no evidence of the continued existence of any previous version of the supplement when Scheffler contacted the responsible authority and designee, and because Scheffler lacks standing to challenge the absence of a contract between the city and the law firm, we affirm.


         Appellant Troy Scheffler was arrested by Coon Rapids Police Officer M.M. in July 2014 and charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of legal process. Scheffler attended Officer M.M.'s unrelated family-court hearing in Anoka on August 22, 2014. The officer reported Scheffler's attendance to Coon Rapids Police Captain Paul Ireland, who in turn informed Anoka Police Captain Scott Nolan. Captain Nolan interviewed M.M. and drafted an incident report and a two-page supplement summarizing M.M.'s and Captain Ireland's statements. Attorney Michael J. Scott received a copy of the report and supplement in the fall of 2014. Scott and his law firm, Hicken, Scott, Howard & Anderson P.A. (HSHA), contract as Anoka's city attorney.

         Scheffler requested the report in person at the Anoka Police Department (APD) on August 25, 2014. The records manager provided Scheffler with the incident report, which included the phrase "SEE SUPP." The records manager refused to provide the supplemental report because the case was "under investigation." On September 12, 2014, Scheffler's legal counsel asked Scott in writing to provide the supplement, saying, "I make this request on behalf of Mr. Scheffler in accordance with Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 3." Scheffler returned to the APD with his counsel on September 16, 2014, demanding access to the supplement. The records staff allegedly told Scheffler that the supplement did not exist. On October 8, 2014, Scheffler's counsel again wrote Scott seeking the supplement and referring to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), adding, "You, your office, the Responsible Authority for the City of Anoka, and the Data Practices Act Designee for the Anoka P.D. have refused to answer Mr. [Scheffler's] three preceding requests for access to the supplement." The request also asked that Scott cite legal authority if he refused to provide the supplement. On November 4, 2014, the state voluntarily dismissed the criminal charges that were based on Coon Rapids Officer M.M.'s allegations.

         On January 28, 2015, Scheffler again went to the APD seeking the supplement. Scheffler recorded his conversation with the records staff. The records manager claimed that the report was available and directed Scheffler to Scott's office. Scheffler went to Scott's office and first spoke with Scott's receptionist, who said she could not find the supplement. Scott eventually arrived, told Scheffler he did not know anything about Scheffler's previous requests, and sent Scheffler away. In a sworn affidavit, Scott claimed that in February 2015 he determined there was insufficient evidence to support the criminal charges against Scheffler regarding his attendance at Officer M.M.'s family-court hearing.

         Scheffler sued the City of Anoka, Anoka County, the City of Coon Rapids, HSHA, and Scott. Scheffler later dismissed the claims against Anoka County and Coon Rapids. Count I alleged that the respondents violated the MGDPA by failing to give Scheffler the supplement. Count II was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons and is not relevant here.

         Scott and HSHA moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming absolute prosecutorial immunity and failure to state a claim. The City of Anoka moved for summary judgment and to stay discovery pending a decision on the dispositive motions. The city had published its data-practices policy in 2008 and made it available on the city's website. The policy identified Timothy J. Cruikshank as the city's responsible authority and Amy T. Oehlers as the appointed designee for MGDPA requests. Scheffler finally made MGDPA requests to the city's specified responsible authority (Cruikshank) and its designee (Oehlers) on June 20, 2015. He specifically asked for the city's data-retention policies, the supplement (including its metadata), contracts for legal services and indemnification agreements, and appointment letters for the responsible authority.

         Oehlers responded on June 22, providing the city's data-practices policy and explaining that the city did not have a written contract or indemnification agreement with HSHA, that appointment letters were nonexistent, that the city followed the "General Records Retention Schedule for Cities, " and that the city would need additional time to locate the specific documents. Within three days of receiving Scheffler's MGDPA request, Oehlers provided Scheffler with the requested data, including the supplement. She followed up with an electronic Microsoft Word version. Metadata in the electronic version shows that the supplement was created and printed on September 4, 2014, that the copy provided to Scheffler was the tenth revision, and that the file was last saved on September 11, 2014. The APD records supervisor provided a sworn affidavit stating that the supplement that Oehlers gave Scheffler was the most current version and that the city had retained no prior drafts or any other version. The district court stayed discovery pending its decision on the dispositive motions.

         Scheffler moved to amend his complaint to add claims and to join Cruikshank as a party. The amendment proposed three additional claims: Count III alleged that the defendants violated Scheffler's MGDPA rights by failing to give him any reason for denying him access to the supplement; Count IV alleged that the city and Cruikshank violated the MGDPA by failing to provide earlier versions of the supplement; and Count V alleged that the city violated the MGDPA by failing to secure a written contract with HSHA. Scheffler also moved to continue under rule 56.06. Scott and HSHA again moved to dismiss.

         The district court issued an order that, in relevant part: (1) denied Scheffler's motion to continue; (2) granted Scheffler's motion to amend the complaint against Scott and HSHA, but denied the motion to amend against the city; (3) granted Scott and HSHA's motion to dismiss the amended complaint; and (4) granted the city's motion for summary judgment.

         As to Counts I and III, the court relied on section 13.03's and section 13.04's requirement that data requests be directed to a responsible authority or designee. The district court stated, "It is undisputed that the Records Clerk at the Anoka Police Department, HSHA, and Scott are not a 'responsible authority' for the City." The district court rejected Scheffler's apparent-authority argument because Scheffler failed to produce any evidence that Anoka manifested any intention for Scott and HSHA to act as its MGDPA designees. The district court also noted that, while a city may allow a private person to act as its MGDPA designee under a written contract, there was no written contract between the city and Scott and HSHA.

         As to Count V, the district court reasoned that Scheffler could maintain the action only if he suffered damage from the alleged MGDPA violation and was an aggrieved person. The district court found that Scheffler, "a resident of the city of Coon Rapids, fail[ed] to establish how he [was] damaged by the failure of the City of Anoka and [Scott and HSHA] to enter into a written contract for city attorney services." The district court also reasoned that an "aggrieved person, " as defined by the statute, excluded Scheffler because neither HSHA nor Scott was required to make the requested data available to Scheffler. It dismissed Count V, holding that Scheffler lacked standing to pursue it.

         The district court denied Scheffler's motion to amend the complaint against the city and granted summary judgment in its favor. On Count I, the district court rejected Scheffler's argument that the APD records staff were effectively the MGDPA designees by virtue of apparent authority. The court explained that Scheffler made only conclusory allegations questioning the status of the information as investigative data, but that the allegations were rebutted by Scott's affidavit declaring that he made the decision not to charge Scheffler only after Scheffler made the data requests.

         The district court denied Scheffler's request to amend his complaint to include Count III against the city because Scheffler's claim failed as a matter of law. The court reasoned that, because the records staff and Scott and HSHA were not responsible authorities or designees, they were not obligated to give any reason for denying access to the supplement. Likewise, it determined that the proposed amendment to Count IV against the city could not withstand summary judgment. The district court concluded that Scheffler made only the conclusory allegation that the city, Cruikshank, and Oehlers failed to give him access to all versions of the supplement based on the document's metadata reference to revisions. The district court reasoned that the bare allegation fell to the sworn declaration by the records supervisor, who stated that the city did not have any previous versions. And because the city could not provide data that it did not have, the district court held that the proposed count could not survive the pending summary-judgment motion. The city and Scott and HSHA applied for taxation of costs. The district court entered judgment against Scheffler for $1, 155 for the city, and $826 for Scott and HSHA. Scheffler appeals.

         The parties appeared for oral argument on November 10, 2016. Scheffler later filed two purported citations to supplemental authority. Scott and HSHA objected to Scheffler's new citations, and the city filed a motion to strike Scheffler's letters and attachments.


         I. Did the district court err by granting the city's motion for summary judgment on Count I?

         II. Did the district court err by denying Scheffler's motion to amend the complaint against the city ...

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