Guyer v. City of Kirkwood

Decision Date06 March 2001
Citation38 S.W.3d 412
Parties(Mo.banc 2001) Stephen Guyer, Appellant, v. City of Kirkwood, Respondent. SC82740 0
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Appeal From: Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Hon. Kenneth M. Romines

Counsel for Appellant: Rick Barry and Greg Kloeppel

Counsel for Respondent: John Hessel and David Helms

Opinion Summary: The Bureau of Internal Affairs of St. Louis County Police Department investigated a citizen complaint to the City of Kirkwood against Officer Stephen Guyer. The Bureau concluded the complaint was unfounded and gave its report to the City. The City denied Guyer's request for the record, and the circuit court held the record exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Sunshine Law. Guyer appealed.

Court en banc holds: The records appear to qualify as both incident and investigative reports under section 610.100, which are open records, and as "personnel records," or records containing "information relating to the performance or merit of individual employees" under section 610.021, which are records that may be closed. However, section 610.021 permits closure only if not "otherwise required by law." Public policy presuming open records and language strictly construing exceptions favors disclosure.

The original citizen's complaint qualifies as an incident report, which is open. The Bureau's report qualifies as an investigative report under the statute only if it was directed to alleged criminal conduct. The record on appeal does not establish this. The case must be remanded to determine whether the complaint implicated criminal conduct. If so, it should be presumed that such conduct was the subject of the investigation and the report must be disclosed.

Price, C.J., White, Holstein, Wolff and Benton, JJ., and Manners, Sp.J., concur.

Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr., Judge

Steven Guyer appeals from a judgment of the Circuit Court denying his petition for a declaratory judgment in which he sought disclosure of an internal police investigation report from the City of Kirkwood. The Circuit Court, applying the Sunshine Law, chapter 610, RSMo, held that the record is exempt from mandatory disclosure. After opinion by the Court of Appeals, Eastern District, this Court granted transfer. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10. Reversed and remanded.

Appellant is employed as a commissioned police officer by the City. In December 1997, the City received a citizen complaint alleging that appellant had engaged in misconduct. The Bureau of Internal Affairs of St. Louis County Police Department (Bureau) assisted the City in investigating the complaint and, ultimately, concluded that the complaint was unfounded. After the investigation was completed, the Bureau furnished a report of the investigation to the City. Appellant twice requested a copy of the report from the City, as well as the identity of the complainant and the specifics of the complaint, but, the City denied the requests based upon its interpretation of the Sunshine Law.

When reviewing a declaratory judgment, an appellate court's standard of review is the same as in any other court-tried case. McDermott v. Carnahan, 934 S.W.2d 285, 287 (Mo. banc 1996). That is, the trial court's decision should be affirmed unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, unless it is against the weight of the evidence, unless it erroneously declares the law, or unless it erroneously applies the law. Id.; Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976).

Appellant argues that, under section 610.100.2, RSMo Supp. 1995, the City is under a duty to disclose the complaint and report because they were prepared in connection with an investigation into a crime or suspected crime and the investigation is now inactive. The City argues, consistent with the trial court's holding, that it need not disclose the records because, under section 610.021, RSMo Supp. 1995, the complaint and report were related to the "[h]iring, firing, or disciplining . . . of a particular employee," that they constituted "identifiable personnel records," and that they were maintained for the sole purpose of assessing appellant's fitness to perform his duties as a police officer.

Section 610.100.2 states in pertinent part:

Each law enforcement agency of this state, of any county, and of any municipality, shall maintain records of all incidents reported to the agency, investigations and arrests made by such law enforcement agency. All incident reports and arrest reports shall be open records. Notwithstanding any other provision of law other than the provisions of subsections 4, 5 and 6 of this section or section 320.083, RSMo, investigative reports of all law enforcement agencies are closed records until the investigation becomes inactive. . . .

Under this statute, "incident reports" are open records, and by implication, once the ensuing investigation becomes inactive, "investigative reports" become open records as well.

In contrast, section 610.021 provides in pertinent part:

Except to the extent disclosure is otherwise required by law, a public governmental body is authorized to close meetings, records and votes, to the extent they relate to the following:

* * *

(3) Hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting of particular employees by a public governmental body when personal information about the employee is discussed or recorded. . . . As used in this subdivision, the term "personal information" means information relating to the performance or merit of individual employees;

* * *

(13) Individually identifiable personnel records, performance ratings or records pertaining to employees or applicants for employment. . . .

At first glance, the records in this case appear to qualify both as incident and investigative reports under section 610.100, which are open records, and as "personnel records," or records containing "information relating to the performance or merit of individual employees" under section 610.021, which are records that may be closed. However, the permissive closure available in section 610.021 is qualified by its own terms, that is, records may not be closed under that section "to the extent disclosure is otherwise required by...

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