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Webster v. Hennepin County and Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Supreme Court of Minnesota

March 15, 2017

Tony Webster, Appellant,
v.
Hennepin County and Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, Respondents.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Scott M. Flaherty, Cyrus C. Malek, Emily M. Peterson, Samuel Aintablian II, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Daniel P. Rogan, Senior Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents.

         SYLLABUS

         1. On a motion for a stay pending appeal, a trial court must identify the relevant factors, weight each factor, and then balance them, applying the court's sound discretion.

         2. The decision of the administrative law judge to issue a stay pending appeal was not an abuse of discretion.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          LILLEHAUG, Justice.

         Appellant Tony Webster sought public government data from respondents Hennepin County and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office (collectively, Hennepin County) under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (the Data Practices Act). See Minn. Stat. ch. 13 (2016). Dissatisfied with Hennepin County's response, Webster filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings. The administrative law judge (ALJ) held that Hennepin County had violated the Data Practices Act and ordered it to produce all requested data. Hennepin County appealed the decision and obtained a stay from the ALJ pending appeal. The court of appeals denied Webster's motion to lift the stay. Webster then petitioned this court for review. Because we conclude that a trial court, or as in this case, an agency ALJ, [1]has broad discretion to grant a stay pending appeal, and that the ALJ did not abuse its discretion in doing so here, we affirm.

         FACTS

         On August 12, 2015, Webster submitted 14 requests to Hennepin County for public government data under the Data Practices Act. Among Webster's requests was one asking that Hennepin County perform a computer-aided search of its stored e-mails using 20 separate search terms. Eventually, Hennepin County responded to all of Webster's requests except for the e-mail search request. Hennepin County asserted that the search request was "too burdensome with which to comply."

         Webster filed an expedited data-practices complaint alleging that Hennepin County had violated the Data Practices Act by failing to promptly and substantively respond to his data requests. After an evidentiary hearing, the ALJ concluded that Hennepin County had violated the Data Practices Act. The ALJ ordered Hennepin County to, among other things, (1) implement a procedure by June 1, 2016, to ensure that electronically stored public data, including e-mail, is organized for easy access and use by the public; and (2) begin production of the requested data on a rolling basis, including e-mails, to Webster by May 2, 2016, with all requested data to be produced by June 3, 2016.

         Hennepin County gathered the relevant e-mails and began producing data on a weekly basis. Webster was able to inspect some of the relevant e-mails on May 2 and 9, 2016.

         On May 3, 2016, by petition for a writ of certiorari, Hennepin County appealed the ALJ's order to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The next day, Hennepin County asked the ALJ to issue a partial stay pending appeal. Hennepin County argued that, absent a stay, its "right to appellate review will be eclipsed because it will be forced to act, including ...


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