If there’s one constant in Minnesota, it’s the debate over whether we’re a welcoming people.

It’s hard to make friends here, the theory goes. We’re a little cold and a little distant and you can grow old waiting for an invitation to dinner from the neighbors.

Tell it to Shonda.

According to Southwest Journal, Shonda moved into the Diamond Lake neighborhood and before she could meet many people, her car was broadsided.

When a new Diamond Lake neighbor was broadsided in a car accident April 4 at 56th Street & 13th Avenue, her neighbors quickly took action, though many hadn’t met her yet. One person set up a plan to send over meals, another helped arrange to get a rental car, and others watched her three boys while she was in the hospital with a broken jaw.

When neighbors learned that neither driver in the accident had insurance, they set up a fundraiser on gofundme.com to help raise money for a new car. They met the $400 goal in two days, and shut down fundraising when the total hit $1,165. Many of the 45 donors chipped in about $20 apiece.

“Shonda spent time in the hospital and neighbors helped care for her 3 boys,” neighbor Mary Kadrie wrote on the GoFundMe page. “She has a broken jaw and no car now. She was uninsured as was the driver that hit her.

“The neighbors on the nearby blocks have rallied to line up meals, shuttle her kids to various activities and practices, but what the family really needs is a car. Until they can line up funds for a new car they need a rental to get them through.”

The Minnesota Court of Appeals Monday tossed out a lawsuit from a former doctor at the St. Peter, Minn., psychiatric hospital who argued that an MPR News investigation on the treatment of patients there was based on state data that should’ve been private.

Michael Harlow’s firing followed a November 2011 incident in which a patient at the psychiatric hospital was placed in restraints and stripped naked.

After Harlow was fired in December 2011, MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran, citing several sources, reported that the hospital was in turmoil and that officials didn’t give the staff any direction on how the incident should have been handled.

“He was maintained in a dehumanizing condition for hours without clothing, without [a] blanket, without a mattress, without a pillow, even though it was documented he was trying to sleep on the slab and was calm and quiet,” then hospital boss David Proffitt told Baran in her February 2012 story. “Those are things that are not common for this facility. They’re not acceptable for this facility.”

In a report several months later, Baran reported that an investigation by the Department of Human Services “found the facility and Dr. Harlow violated licensing standards, but that the violations were not serious or recurring.”

Harlow sued the DHS, David Proffitt and DHS deputy commissioner Ann Barry for defamation, and said Minnesota data practices laws prevented the details of his firing from being released.

The Court of Appeals, however, ruled today (pdf) that the data given Baran about Harlow’s firing was public data at the time of the release, even though a separate investigation was underway.

“Proffitt’s statement that Harlow’s firing ‘had nothing to do with restraints or seclusion’ was a statement of his opinion. The MGDPA applies only to recorded data, not ‘mental impressions formed by public employees,’” the court said today.

It said there was no indication Commissioner Barry was leaking data from an ongoing DHS investigation at the time she was interviewed by the MPR reporter.

Court of Appeals Judge Michael Kirk also said the two officials are immune from the defamation suit because their statements were made as part of their assigned duties for the state.

Barry stated in her deposition that Baran contacted DHS’s communications office before her February 2012 report for MPR and that Barry was “assigned the interview” by the DHS communications director because “[it] would have been either [her] or the commissioner who did the interview, and [she] was in a better position to do the interview.”

Proffitt similarly stated that he was told to participate in the MPR interview because it was part of his job. And Proffitt’s former supervisor stated in an affidavit that “[c]orresponding with staff in response to press coverage of the facility was one of Proffitt’s job-related functions” as hospital administrator.

Kirk said the public had an interest in the details of Harlow’s firing.

“The public had a strong interest in learning about the hospital’s administration, patient care, and use of public funds,” he wrote in today’s opinion. “The information about Harlow’s firing thus provided important information about hospital operations to the public.”

Proffitt resigned under fire in March 2012.