Minnesota Medical Ass'n v. State, No. 48461.

CourtMinnesota Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtI respectfully join in the dissent of Mr. Otis
Citation274 NW 2d 84
PartiesMINNESOTA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, et al., Appellants, v. STATE of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Public Welfare, etc., and Its Commissioner, Respondents, Minnesota Department of Administration and Its Commissioner, Respondents, Catholic Bulletin Publishing Co., et al., intervenors, Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 48461.
Decision Date24 November 1978

274 N.W.2d 84 (1978)

STATE of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Public Welfare, etc., and Its Commissioner, Respondents,
Minnesota Department of Administration and Its Commissioner, Respondents,
Catholic Bulletin Publishing Co., et al., intervenors, Respondents.

No. 48461.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

November 24, 1978.

274 NW 2d 85

Dorsey, Windhorst, Hannaford, Whitney & Halladay and John M. Mason and Margery K. Otto, Minneapolis, for appellants.

Warren Spannaus, Atty. Gen., Barbara D. Gill, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Public Welfare, St. Paul, for respondent Dept. of Public Welfare et al.

Warren Spannaus, Atty. Gen., Sheila S. Fishman, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Administration, St. Paul, for respondent Dept. of Admin. et al.

Rothenberg & Hirl, Minneapolis, D. D. Wozniak, St. Paul, for respondent Catholic Bulletin.

Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, Minneapolis, Susan L. Lentz, Minneapolis, Minn. Broadcasters Assn., Peterson, Popovich, Knutson & Flynn, St. Paul, amicus curiae.

274 NW 2d 86

Considered and decided by the court en banc.

SHERAN, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from an order of the Ramsey County District Court denying plaintiffs' motion for a temporary injunction restraining defendant Minnesota Department of Public Welfare from furnishing to the Catholic Bulletin Publishing Co. any data relating to the names of service providers, description of medical procedures, and amounts paid to service providers relating to abortions in 1976 and 1977. We affirm.

In June 1977, a Catholic Bulletin reporter requested the Department of Public Welfare to provide him a list of all physicians, clinics, and hospitals that had performed abortions for medical assistance patients in 1976 and 1977 and to disclose the amounts the state had paid each service provider for these procedures. The department agreed to provide the information, which is stored with other data furnished by the providers on computer tapes.1 The department informed the Bulletin that it would cost $2,500 to $4,000 to program and run the computer to retrieve the data, but later agreed to furnish it at no cost if the Bulletin would prepare the program.

At that time the Minnesota Medical Association and its president, Dr. Chester Anderson, brought an action for a temporary and permanent injunction to prohibit the department from disseminating information stored in state computers until administrative regulations governing access to computer-stored information were adopted and complied with, which regulations should require payment of retrieval costs, public hearings prior to dissemination, and protection of patients' and physicians' rights to receive and render medical treatment. On November 23, 1977, a temporary restraining order and order to show cause was issued. On December 14, 1977, a hearing was held on plaintiffs' motion for a temporary injunction —

"* * * restraining and enjoining Defendants, their officers, agents and employees and all persons acting in concert or participation with them from publishing, providing, disseminating or otherwise disclosing data in response to the request of the Catholic Bulletin that it be provided without cost and by use of its own computer program, any data relating to names of service providers and/or medical procedures and amount paid to service providers relating to `abortions\' during 1976 and 1977, including any portions or part thereof, and whether alone or in combination, until the final adjudication of Plaintiffs\' claims for relief."

On December 20, 1977, the court issued its order denying the motion. It concluded that, with the exception of Dr. Chester Anderson's claim that providing the information to the Catholic Bulletin without cost would constitute an unlawful expenditure of public funds, the plaintiffs had "no constitutional or statutory right to the relief sought." It held that the information sought was "public" enjoying no classification of "private" or "confidential" under Minn.St. 15.1642, and that the fact that the information was stored on computer tapes does not remove it from the category of "public records" under Minn.St. 15.17. It further held that prohibiting disclosure would impose an unconstitutional prior restraint on publication by the Catholic Bulletin. With respect to Anderson's claim as a taxpayer, the court held that the Catholic Bulletin must pay the cost of providing the data. It ruled, however, that a claim that the department would not charge the full cost was not a ground for injunctive relief since the taxpayer could challenge the reasonableness

274 NW 2d 87
of the department's charges in a taxpayer suit to recover the sum allegedly due

Plaintiffs appeal, contending that they have standing to challenge alleged invasions of their right to administer medical treatment;2 that the use of the state's computers to compile, collate, and correlate the requested data will impair or defeat privacy rights, physicians' rights to administer medical treatment according to their professional judgment, and medical assistance patients' right to a free choice of physicians; that state agencies must adopt rules governing access to computer files before releasing any information stored therein; and that taxpayers may obtain injunctions prohibiting agencies from furnishing services or property until full payment is received.3

The issue on appeal from an order denying a motion for a temporary injunction is whether the lower court abused its discretion. Dahlberg Brothers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 272 Minn. 264, 137 N.W.2d 314 (1965). In this case, where the lower court determined that the plaintiffs have no right to the relief sought, we confine our review to an examination of this dispositive issue. Appellants claim both statutory and constitutional rights to prevent the requested disclosure. They contend that disclosure is not permitted under the Data Privacy Act and that disclosure would infringe medical assistance patients' right under Minn.St. 256B.01 to free choice of a physician. They and amicus Minnesota Civil Liberties Union also contend that disclosure would infringe physicians' privacy and property rights and medical assistance patients' privacy rights. We find these contentions to be without merit.


A. Statutory Classification of the Requested Data

The purpose of Minn.St. 15.162 to 15.169, known as the Minnesota Data Privacy Act, is to control the state's collection, security, and dissemination of information in order "to protect the privacy of individuals while meeting the legitimate needs of government and society for information." Minn.St. 15.169, subd. 3(3). To accomplish this purpose the law provides for the classification of data on individuals into three categories: "confidential," "private," and "public."

"Confidential data on individuals" is defined as data which is "(a) made not public by statute or federal law applicable to the data and is inaccessible to the individual subject of that data * * *." Minn.St. 15.162, subd. 2a.

"Private data on individuals" is data "which is made by statute or federal law applicable to the data: (a) not public; and (b) accessible to the individual subject of that data." Minn.St. 15.162, subd. 5a.

"Public data on individuals" means "data which is accessible to the public in accordance with the provisions of section 15.17." Minn.St. 15.162, subd. 5b.

274 NW 2d 88

These definitions require that classifications as "confidential" or "private" be made by "statute or federal law applicable to the data."4

Appellant cites no statute or federal law which makes the names of those receiving payments for abortion services provided to medical assistance patients or the amount of the payments received "not public."5 Therefore, this information is neither "confidential" nor "private." Appellants nevertheless contend that the information is not "public data on individuals" because it does not fall within the definition of "public records" under Minn.St. 15.17.

Minn.St. 15.17, subd. 1, requires all state agencies to "make and keep all records necessary to a full and accurate knowledge of their official activities." The statute then provides that "all such public records" shall be made on durable paper, but that they may be photographed, photostated, microphotographed, or microfilmed and that the reproductions may be substituted for the originals. Minn.St. 15.17, subd. 4, requires public record custodians to keep the records "easily accessible for convenient use," and provides in part:

"* * * Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, he shall permit all public records in his custody to be inspected, examined, abstracted, or copied at reasonable times and under his supervision and regulation by any person; and he shall, upon the demand of any person, furnish certified copies thereof on payment in advance of fees not to exceed the fees prescribed by law."

Appellants contend that, because the information sought here was stored on computer tapes, it is not a "public record" accessible to the public under § 15.17. Rather, they argue, only the microfilm copies of the practitioner invoices from which the computer tapes are made constitute public records. This argument is without merit.

The requirement of Minn.St. 15.17, subd. 1, that public records be made on durable quality paper does not constitute a definition of public records. Rather, that requirement is imposed on "all such public records." "Such" refers to the sentence immediately preceding, which requires officials to keep "all records necessary to a full and accurate knowledge of their official activities." Thus, whether records are "public records" depends not on the form in which they are kept but on whether they are "necessary to a full and accurate knowledge" of official activities. The form requirements merely ensure that the records are made permanent. The...

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