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Missouri Attorney General

Court decisions regarding Missouri Sunshine law

Below are summaries of Missouri court decisions regarding the Sunshine Law. Please note that the law cited may have been amended, especially for older court decisions.

Hudson v. School District of Kansas City, 578 S.W.2d 301 (Mo.App. W.D. 1979)
Meeting by school board to discuss furlough of probationary teachers and to reassign administrative employees to fit under exemption for “meetings relating to hiring, firing, or promotion of personnel,” where meetings involved policy decisions regarding allocations of funds and did not focus on individual’s merits.
Kansas City Star Company v. Shields, 771 S.W.2d 101 (Mo. App. W.D. 1989)
A violation of the Sunshine Law occurred when three members of a four-person budget committee of the city council met with the city budget officer and city manager and discussed the city budget in a luncheon meeting that was not announced as required by 610.020.
Charlier v. Corum, 774 S.W.2d 518 (Mo. App. W.D. 1989)
A county sheriff is a “public governmental body” within the meaning of Section 610.010(4) because the office of sheriff is an administrative entity created by state statute.
Librach v. Cooper, 778 S.W.2d 351 (Mo. App. E.D. 1989)
A severance agreement reached between a school district and superintendent is a public record to be made available for inspection and copying.
Defino v. Civic Center Corp., 780 S.W.2d 665 (Mo. App. E.D. 1989)
No issue of a Sunshine Law violation was presented to the court where less than a quorum of a board of aldermen met with constituents. The court determined the Sunshine Law does not require public notice of every meeting between a constituent and an alderman.
Fitzgerald v. City of Maryland Heights, 796 S.W.2d 52 (Mo. App. E.D. 1990)
The failure of city council to follow the Sunshine Law’s notice requirements did not excuse the mayor from his failure to comply with a directive adopted by the council in a meeting where he was present.
Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services v. Allan, 787 S.W.2d 291 (Mo. App. W.D. 1990)
A preliminary draft of a report prepared by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs in possession of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is a public record because it is a record retained by a public governmental body. Section 610.010(6) does not require a record to be in final form.
Charlier v. Corum, 794 S.W.2d 676 (Mo. App. W.D. 1990)
A county sheriff purposely violated the Sunshine Law when he refused to make public records available. Neither the sheriff’s “good faith” belief that he was not a “public governmental body” nor the fact that he acted upon advice of legal counsel relieved him from liability. More recently, the Missouri Supreme Court in Spradlin v. City of Fulton, 982 S.W.2d 255 (Mo.banc 1998), denied attorney fees when the public body did not purposely violate the Sunshine Law.
City of St. Louis v. City of Bridgeton, 806 S.W.2d 717 (Mo. App. E.D. 1991)
A public governmental body purchasing a number of contiguous parcels in a single subdivision is authorized to close records relating to the price paid for one parcel until all the parcels have been acquired.
Paskon v. Salem Memorial Hospital District, 806 S.W.2d 417 (Mo. App. S.D. 1991)
A physician accorded clinical privileges at a public hospital and paid an hourly wage for required shifts to staff the hospital emergency room was an employee within the meaning of Section 610.021(3) of the Sunshine Law.
Wolfskill v. Henderson, 823 S.W.2d 112 (Mo. App. W.D. 1991)
A police department’s internal investigative files relating to the disciplining of a public employee are closed records pursuant to Section 610.021(3) and (13). But a grand jury may access these files (State ex. rel. Jackson County v. Shinn, 835 S.W.2d 347 (Mo. App. W.D. 1992)). Also, see Guyer v. City of Kirkwood, 38 S.W.3d 412 (Mo.banc 2001), where a complaint alleging criminal misconduct of a police officer becomes public once the investigation is inactive.
Pultizer Publishing Co. v. Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System (MOSERS), 927 S.W.2d 477 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996)
A public governmental body may not promulgate a rule to close public records where there is no statutory authority for that rule and the records appear to be public pursuant to Section 610.021(13).
Deaton v. Kidd, 932 S.W.2d 804 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996)
A public governmental body may not restrict public access to records by selling exclusive rights to computer tapes of public records to a bidder who then provides the records at a cost to the public.
Colombo v. Buford, 935 S.W.2d 690 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996)
Actions brought under Section 610.027 (alleged violations of the Sunshine Law) must be filed within six months after the plaintiffs are informed about the questionable meeting or when they could have ascertained a possible violation of law. Pursuant to Section 610.010, a member of a public governmental body is not a governmental body.
City of Springfield v. Events Publishing Co. in PDF format, 951 S.W.2d 366 (Mo. App. S.D. 1997)
Names and addresses of utility customers are public records unless those customers request confidentiality. If a public governmental body seeks a judgment declaring whether a record is open or closed pursuant to Section 610.027.5, the body must pay both its own costs of bringing the action and the respondent’s attorney fees.
State ex. rel. Lohman v. Brown, 936 S.W.2d 607 (Mo.App. W.D. 1997)
Section 32.057.1 which makes it unlawful for the Director of Revenue to divulge to anyone any information related to tax returns filed with the Department, precluded the Director from providing the names and address of person who had paid use taxes in Missouri.
News-Press and Gazette Co. v. Cathcart in PDF format, 974 S.W.2d 576 (Mo. App. W.D. 1998)
A coroner is a public governmental body under Section 610.010. But an autopsy report used in an active investigation is an “investigative report” and is closed pursuant to Section 610.100.
Spradlin v. City of Fulton in PDF format, 982 S.W.2d 255 (Mo.banc 1998)
A city’s closed-meeting discussions of a proposed golf course violate the Sunshine Law when the discussions do not involve the city’s proposed lease of that golf course pursuant to Section 610.021(2). However, the city is not liable for attorney fees unless its violation is purposeful pursuant to Section 610.027.3, RSMo. (But see revised Section 610.027.3 which allows attorney fees to be assessed for a knowing violation.)
Smith v. Sheriff in PDF format, 982 S.W.2d 775 (Mo. App. E.D. 1998)
A school board did not violate the Sunshine Law when it allowed certain members of the public to attend a closed meeting to provide information involving the rehiring of a teacher. (But note that a body may not arbitrarily discriminate in admitting members of the public into a closed meeting. See Attorney General Opinion No. 18-81.)
North Kansas City Hospital Board of Trustees v. St. Luke’s Northland Hospital in PDF format, 984 S.W.2d 113 (Mo. App. W.D. 1998)
A nonprofit corporation created to carry out the purposes of a municipal hospital and controlled by the hospital’s board of trustees is a quasi-public governmental body and therefore is subject to the Sunshine Law.
Hemeyer v. KRCG-TV in PDF format, 6 S.W.3d 880 (Mo.banc 1999)
A security videotape of a booking at a county jail is a public record even though the videotape is retained for only days. Also, a public body that brings an action under Section 610.027.5 to determine its responsibility under the Sunshine Law is liable for reasonable attorney fees because the body brings suit at its own expense under that section.
SNL Securities, L.C. v. National Association of Insurance Commissioners in PDF format, 23 S.W.3d 734 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000)
A national association of the chief insurance regulators of all 50 states did not constitute a quasi-public governmental body and therefore was not required to comply with the Sunshine Law.
Guyer v. City of Kirkwood in PDF format, 38 S.W.3d 412 (Mo.banc 2001)
A complaint alleging criminal misconduct by a police officer is an “incident report” and a report concerning investigation into the complaint is an “investigative report” under Section 610.100. Those records can be closed only on grounds specified in Section 610.100 for closing law enforcement records. They cannot be closed under Section 610.021(3) or (13) on grounds that they are personnel records or related to disciplining or firing of an employee.
Calvert v. Mehlville R-IX School District in PDF format, 44 S.W.3d 455 (Mo. App. E.D. 2001)
A school district is required to make public its vote to approve a settlement agreement with a former teacher. Accordingly the teacher is not entitled to damages for breach of a confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement when the district disclosed the existence of the agreement.
Stewart v. Williams Communications, Inc., in PDF format85 S.W.3d 29 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002)
A private, for-profit corporation that lacks the power to formulate public policy, make rules or tax and is not one of the specific entities included in the definition is not a public governmental body as defined in Section 610.010(4). Thus, the fact that a utility company possessed eminent domain power did not make it a public governmental body.
Anderson v. Village of Jacksonville in PDF format, 103 S.W.3d 190 (Mo. App. W.D. 2003)
Anyone seeking access to public records must communicate a request in language that a reasonably competent custodian of the records would understand. The custodian must be able to identify records with reasonable specificity in order to be able to provide access to them.
State ex rel. Moore v. Brewster in PDF format, 116. S.W.3d 630 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003)
A report on alleged misconduct by two school board members is a closed record as legal work product, but must be shared with all board members. Attorney fees are awarded against the board because of failure to appoint a custodian of records.
Anderson v. Village of Jacksonville, 103 S.W.3d 190 (Mo. App. W.D. 2003)
Anyone seeking access to public records must communicate a request in language that a reasonably competent custodian of the records would understand. The custodian must be able to identify records with reasonable specificity in order to be able to provide access to them.
R.E.J., Inc. v. City of Sikeston, 142 S.W.3d 744 (Mo.banc 2004)
City that violated the notice requirements for meeting in adopting an ordinance may have that ordinance voided even if the city repealed the ordinance after being sued.
Jones v. Jackson County Circuit Court, 162 S.W.3d 53 (Mo.App. W.D. 2005)
The sunshine law does not require a government body to create a new record upon request, but only to provide access to existing records held or maintained by the public governmental body.
Jones v. Housing Authority of Kansas City, 174 S.W.3d 594 (Mo. App. W.D. 2005)
Identifying information of public housing tenants may be closed under the Sunshine Law because those records fall within the exception relating to “welfare cases of identifiable individuals” under Section 610.021(8).
American Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Missouri Department of Insurance, 169 S.W.3d 905 (Mo. App. W.D. 2005)
Under Section 610.021(14), a public body may rely on another statute, in this case a trade secrets provision under Sections 417.450 - 417.467, to properly close certain insurance company records.
State Ex. Rel. Goodman v. St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, 181 S.W.3d 156 (Mo. App. E.D. 2005)
An "incident report" as defined in Section 610.100 only includes those elements described in its definition. Other information, such as phone numbers and addresses, is not subject to disclosure.
Client Services v. City of St. Charles, 182 S.W.3d 718 (Mo. App. E.D. 2006)
Once a party seeks judicial enforcement of the Sunshine Law, the public governmental body has the burden to demonstrate compliance.
Scroggins v. Social Services, 227 S.W.3d 498, (Mo. App. W.D. 2007)
The director of the Children’s Division has discretion to release records and reports that it generates, but investigative reports of law enforcement agencies provided to the Children’s Division are closed records under Section 610.100.2 until the law enforcement investigation becomes inactive.
Webster County Abstract Company, Inc. v. Atkinson, 328 S.W.3d 434 (Mo. App. S.D. 2010)
Recorder of Deeds charged a flat fee (per record charge) for all copies of records as authorized by Section 59.130 which allows up to $2.00 for the first page and up to $1.00 for each additional page. Charge bore no relationship to actual costs. Abstract company filed suit claiming charges violated the Sunshine Law, specifically Section 610.026. The court held the language at the beginning of Section 610.026, “Except as otherwise provided by law” permitted the per record charges authorized by Section 59.130.
Webster County Abstract Company, Inc. v. Atkinson, 328 S.W.3d 434 (Mo. App. S.D. 2010)
Recorder of Deeds charged a flat fee (per record charge) for all copies of records as authorized by Section 59.130 which allows up to $2.00 for the first page and up to $1.00 for each additional page. Charge bore no relationship to actual costs. Abstract company filed suit claiming charges violated the Sunshine Law, specifically Section 610.026. The court held the language at the beginning of Section 610.026, “Except as otherwise provided by law” permitted the per record charges authorized by Section 59.130.
R.L. Polk & Co. v. Missouri Department of Revenue, 309 S.W.3d 881 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010)
Department of Revenue established a $3.82 charge per electronic copy for Missouri vehicle or driver’s license records, based on analysis of its costs to maintain and provide electronic copies or records. Court ruled that DOR’s uniform per electronic record fee was not authorized by Section 610.026.1(2) in that it did not include only the costs of copies, staff time, and the cost of the medium used for duplication. The court recognized that such costs do not necessarily vary on a per record basis.
State Ex. Rel. Pulitzer Missouri Newspapers, Inc. v. Seay, 330 S.W.3d 823 (Mo. App. S.D. 2011)
City's former police chief was given a suspended imposition of sentence and placed on probation. The court ordered the file to be a closed and confidential file. Thereafter, the judge denied a newspaper publisher's request to review the file. The court of appeals, southern district, found the publisher was entitled to review the file because the former chief's case was not finally terminated as of the date of the request. Section 610.105, RSMo, provides records of a suspended imposition of sentence are closed records when the case is finally terminated. On the date the publisher inquired about the file, the case had not been finally terminated because the former chief, who had received a suspended sentence, had not yet completed his probation.
Johnson v. State, 366 S.W.3d 11 (Mo. banc 2012)
Reapportionment commission (consisting of six judges from state appellate courts) appointed by Supreme Court pursuant to Art. III, Sec 2 of the State Constitution, is a "judicial entity." Since the commission was not acting in an administrative capacity, it was not a "public governmental body" under the sunshine law.
 
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