Cohen v. Poelker

Decision Date10 March 1975
Docket NumberNo. 58855,58855
Citation520 S.W.2d 50
PartiesKenneth A. COHEN et al., Respondents, v. John H. POELKER et al., Appellants.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Frank Susman, Burton W. Newman, Susman, Schermer, Willer & Rimmel, St. Louis, for respondents.

John C. Danforth, Atty. Gen., Andrew Rothschild, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for intervenor-respondent.

Jack L. Koehr, City Counselor, Edward M. Peek, Associate City Counselor, St. Louis, for appellants.

Evans, Hoemeke & Casey, Robert B. Hoemeke, St. Louis, for amicus curiae.

HENLEY, Judge.

This is an appeal by defendants from a decree enjoining them, as members of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment of the city of St. Louis (Board), from preventing plaintiffs and other members of the public from attending meetings of the Board in violation of Chapter 610, RSMo Supp. 1973, V. A.M.S., 1 known generally as the 'Sunshine Law.' We affirm.

The court acknowledges the excellent assistance furnished it in the decision of this case by the briefs of the parties, the intervenor, and The Pulitzer Publishing Company, amicus curiae.

The suit was commenced by plaintiffs filing their petition alleging, in substance, that during the morning of April 19, 1974, the Board, a public governmental body, met in the offices of the Mayor at City Hall in the city of St. Louis and held an official meeting, a public meeting within the meaning of Chapter 610; that they (plaintiffs) attempted to attend said meeting, but the Board, through its members, agents and others, wilfully and deliberately, prevented their attendance; that the Board has stated through one of its members that it will continue to prevent, exclude and preclude the attendance of plaintiffs and other members of the public at such meetings in the future, and plaintiffs have reason to believe, and do believe, the Board will do as stated unless injunctive relief is granted them as authorized by § 610.030.

By their answer, the Board and its members admit plaintiffs were denied admission to the meeting and assert, in defense, that the provisions of Chapter 610 upon which plaintiffs base their claim for relief are unconstitutional because in violation of Mo.Const. Art. III, § 23 and Art. VI, § 22, V.A.M.S.

Upon his application, the attorney general of Missouri was granted leave to and did intervene as a party plaintiff and filed a reply denying the allegations of the Board's answer attacking the constitutionality of Chapter 610.

In addition of its challenge to the constitutionality of this Law, the Board also contends that it is not a 'public governmental body' within the meaning of § 610.010(2), and for that reason the requirement of § 610.015 that '* * * all public meetings shall be open to the public * * *' is not applicable to ti.

'Public governmental body,' is defined in § 610.010(2) as '* * * any constitutional or statutory governmental entity, including any state body, agency, board, bureau, commission, committee, department, division, or any political subdivision of the state, of any county or of any municipal government, school district or special purpose district, and any other governmental deliberative body under the direction of three or more elected or appointed members having rule-making or quasi-judicial power.'

The Board argues that in order to be a 'public governmental body' it must be a governmental entity of constitutional or statutory origin; and that while it may be a governmental entity it is not of constitutional or statutory origin. On the contrary, the Board says, it is a creature of the city of St. Louis and its origin is the city charter. From this the Board concludes that the legislature did not intend to include 'local' bodies such as the Board of Estimate and Apportionment; that had the legislature so intended it could and would have clearly stated that intent.

The court stated in In re Tompkins' Estate, Mo., 341 S.W.2d 866, 872:

"When called upon to construe a statute, the court's prime duty is to give effect to the legislative intent as expressed in the statute. To this end we are guided by certain well established and recognized rules, among which are the following: (a) The object sought to be obtained and the evil sought to be remedied by the Legislature; (b) the legislative purpose should be assumed to be a reasonanble one; (c) laws are presumed to have been passed with a view to the welfare of the community; (d) it was intended to pass an effective law, not an ineffective or insufficient one; (e) it was intended to make some change in the existing law.' State ex rel. M. J. Gorzik Corp. v. Mosman, Mo.App., 305 S.W.2d 733, 734; State ex rel. M. J. Gorzik Corp. v. Mosman, Mo.Sup., 315 S.W.2d 209, 211.'

The several sections of Chapter 610, considered together, speak loudly and clearly for the General Assembly that its intent in enacting the Sunshine Law, socalled was that all meetings of members of public governmental bodies (except those described in § 610.025) at which the peoples' business is considered must be open to the people and not conducted in secrecy, and also that the records of the body and the votes of its members must be open.

The definition of 'public governmental body' refers to and includes constitutional and statutory governmental bodies or entities at all levels in the state; for example: the 'state' itself, 'any political subdivision of the state,' the 'county,' the 'municipal government,' the 'school district,' the 'special purpose district,' etc. By including in the definition any 'agency,' 'board,' 'bureau,' 'commission,' 'committee,' 'department' and 'division,' the General Assembly was recognizing some of today's forms of entities through which the several levels of governmental bodies function. it is these agencies, commissions and departments and their members which have 'meetings'; not the state, county, municipality or district. Thus, it is clear that the intent was that secrecy be prohibited at all levels of government in the state by requiring that the meetings and votes of the members of these departments, commissions and agencies of the several levels of government and the records thereof be 'open' to the public.

While the Board is not, as it contends, of constitutional or statutory origin, it is a 'board' created by the charter of the city which is a municipal government of constitutional origin. The Board is charged by the city's charter (Article XVI) with functions which are essential to the operation of the city. For example, it collects from every department, board and office of the city information with which to prepare and submit annually to the Board of Aldermen a...

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21 cases
  • Hyde v. City of Columbia
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • 15 de junho de 1982 the public-even without an interest to vindicate-the meetings and records of those entrusted with the public business. Cohen v. Poelker, 520 S.W.2d 50, 52(1) (Mo. banc 1975); State ex rel. Gray v. Brigham, 622 S.W.2d 734, 735(2, 3) (Mo.App.1981). The enactment exempts from open convocati......
  • Herald Co. v. McNeal, 76-212C(1).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • 11 de março de 1981
    ...prior discussion of plaintiff's federal claims. The fourth claim was considered and rejected by the Missouri Supreme Court in Cohen v. Poelker, 520 S.W.2d 50 (Mo. banc 1975) and will therefore be rejected This Court also finds plaintiff's fifth claim unpersuasive. Section 610.100 is applica......
  • Spradlin v. City of Fulton
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • 22 de dezembro de 1998
    ...public policy favors open meetings." City of St. Louis v. City of Bridgeton, 806 S.W.2d 717, 718 (Mo.App.1991); see also, Cohen v. Poelker, 520 S.W.2d 50, 54 (Mo. banc 1975). "It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of public government......
  • State ex rel. Philipp Transit Lines, Inc. v. Public Service Commission
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • 14 de junho de 1977
    ...that it is a 'public governmental body' and thus subject to the Sunshine Law (610.010(2)) * * *." We agree with that conclusion. Cohen v. Poelker, 520 S.W.2d 50 (Mo.banc The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the Circuit Court of Cole County with directions to further remand i......
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