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Forum News Service, Published November 20 2013

Minnesota court reverses decision granting newspaper access to data

ST. PAUL - In a decision that could have a significant impact on public data access, the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed an appellate court decision that granted the Timberjay newspaper access to documents related to the construction of St. Louis County schools.

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, writing the majority opinion, determined that Johnson Controls and Architectural Resources are not required to turn over a subcontract to the paper and its editor, Marshall Helmberger.

“There is no provision in the Data Practices Act that makes a contract between two private businesses public,” Guildea wrote. “The contract at issue in this case was not created or held by the government; rather, the contract was entered into between private businesses and held by those businesses.”

Associate Justices Alan Page and Wilhelmina Wright concurred. There were no dissenting opinions issued by the court.

Helmberger took the two companies to court in 2011 after he was denied access to documents related to the construction of new St. Louis County school district facilities.

An administrative law judge denied Helmberger’s request, but the publisher took the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court’s ruling.

Johnson Controls appealed to the state Supreme Court.