A state-created insurer that covers only high-risk providers does not need to make its records public, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled.

The Minnesota Joint Underwriting Association is not a public entity, the court ruled Tuesday, allowing the insurer to withhold records requested by the Star Tribune last year.

The newspaper reported last May that the MJUA, often called "the insurer of last resort" because it covers providers that cannot get private coverage, has spent at least $32 million over the last decade to settle claims. That includes $12 million to resolve 169 claims filed against health care providers, some of whom were accused of crippling or killing their patients.

The MJUA sued the Star Tribune last February after it filed a request for records, saying it operated as a private insurer funded by members' premiums, not state tax dollars.

Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan ruled in August that the records were public and must immediately be turned over to the newspaper. She said the language of the statute that created the MJUA to serve a public purpose "itself evidences the nature of the MJUA as a public entity."

But the Appeals Court reversed her, saying that when legislature created the MJUA in 1976, it did not intend to make it a state agency. "The MJUA is not a government entity that is subject" to the state's open records laws, the court wrote.

Star Tribune attorney Randy Lebedoff said the newspaper "is disappointed in the decision and we are evaluating our options."

Paula Vraa, who represents the MJUA, said the insurer initially brought the lawsuit against the Star Tribune "to protect the privacy of our corporate policyholders and to ask for clarity from the court."