November 1, 2010
In an unpublished opinion on June 1, 2010, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed an order granting an expungement in Commissioner of Human Services v. S.M.Q (A09-1503) because an agency subject to the order was not notified of the proceedings. S.M.Q. had sought to expunge records of a dismissed criminal charge held by the court, prosecutor/county, Minnesota BCA, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services. S.M.Q. served the expungement petition on the prosecutor, the B.C.A., and the Minnesota Attorney General's Office (which is both the B.C.A.'s and DHS' attorney). However, S.M.Q. failed to serve the Department of Human Services.
The district court granted S.M.Q.'s request to expunge records held by all of the above agencies, including records held by the Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services appealed the order directing it to seal records, arguing it did not have notice of the expungement action. The Court of Appeals agreed and held that the Department of Human Services was entitled to be heard in the action and therefore reversed the district court's expungement order. The court noted that Minnesota Statute 609A.03 requires that agency whose records are subject to a proposed expungement order must be provided notice of the court action. The court stated that serving the Department of Human Services' attorney (the Minnesota Attorney General) is not sufficient to notify the agency itself.
This case shows exactly why one must follow procedural rules carefully with any legal matter. Telling the agency of state government in charge of arguing to protect government records is not sufficient to tell the rest of state government that its records might be expunged. To someone not familiar with the legal system, this result may seem downright silly. However, it is the procedure the legislature has established in Minnesota Statute 609A.03.