Court revisits Minn. Data Practices Act

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ When Minnesota governments farm work out to private companies, state law presumes most data "collected, received, stored, used, maintained or disseminated" for those projects is available to the public just as if the work was done by public employees.

That open records principle is at the heart of a dispute before the state Court of Appeals. The court takes up a case Friday testing the reach of Minnesota's Data Practices Act when it comes to outsourced work.

The case springs from a small-town newspaper editor's effort to access data from a construction management firm and its subcontractor on a major school buildings project. It's the first significant judicial look at that portion of the records law in about a decade.

The stakes go beyond the regional school district's $78 million project behind the information standoff. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually on services or construction projects authorized by Minnesota's state government, municipal councils and school boards.

Lawyers for the firm, Johnson Controls Inc., argue that an adverse ruling for them could open private companies to unnecessary scrutiny by forcing them to divulge sensitive pricing and strategic information to anyone who asks, including competitors. In turn, they say it may lead some companies to charge taxpayers more or make others less likely to bid on public work.