State ex rel. City of Springfield v. Brown

Decision Date31 January 2006
Docket NumberNo. 27027.,27027.
Citation181 S.W.3d 219
PartiesSTATE of Missouri ex rel. CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, Missouri, a Municipal Corporation, Plaintiff-Relator, v. The Honorable Jason BROWN, Circuit Court of Greene County, Missouri, Associate Circuit Judge, Division 22, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Daniel R. Wichmer, Carl Yendes, Springfield, MO, for relator.

Darrell L. Moore (no brief filed), Springfield, MO, for plaintiff State of Missouri.

Anissa F. Whittle-Moore, Springfield, MO, for respondent.



The City of Springfield ("the City") sought a writ to prohibit the Honorable Jason Brown ("Respondent") from entering a discovery order that the City provide to William Harris ("Defendant"):



We entered a preliminary order but, finding that order was granted improvidently, we now hereby quash the order.

Defendant has been charged with three counts of third-degree assault on law enforcement officers Phillip Yarnell, Dale Sokolik and Dustin Donaldson. He claims that he did not assault the officers, but acted in self-defense when the officers attacked him at the site of an arrest. He subsequently filed a complaint against the officers and an internal affairs investigation was done by the City. Defendant was provided a copy of the results of the internal affairs investigation; however, he was not provided with the officers' statements concerning the event nor provided with other citizen complaints about the three officers.

Although a writ of prohibition is the proper remedy for an abuse of discretion during discovery, State ex rel. Ford Motor Co. v. Nixon, 160 S.W.3d 379, 380 (Mo. banc 2005), a trial court rules on discovery requests in the first instance, and the appellate courts will prohibit a trial court from acting only in rare circumstances where the trial court abuses its discretion. State ex rel. Williams v. Lohmar, 162 S.W.3d 131, 133 (Mo.App. E.D.2005). Prohibition will lie to prevent the forced disclosure of information during discovery, particularly when the information is protected by a statute, rule or privilege. State ex rel. White v. Gray, 141 S.W.3d 460, 463 (Mo.App. W.D.2004). The purpose of a writ of mandamus is to execute a clear, unequivocal, and specific right, and not to adjudicate. State ex rel. Chassaing v. Mummert, 887 S.W.2d 573, 576 (Mo. banc 1994). A relator seeking a writ of prohibition has the burden of showing that the trial court's ruling is beyond the bounds of judicial discretion. Williams, 162 S.W.3d at 133. The burden of persuasion lies with the relator. State ex rel. MacDonald v. Franklin, 149 S.W.3d 595, 597 (Mo.App. S.D.2004).

The City argues that:

[it] is entitled to an order prohibiting Respondent from ordering production of the internal affairs statements of Officers Phillip Yarnell, Dale Sokolik and Dustin Donaldson, as well as any citizen complaints on each of these officers alleging violence or excessive force from 1999 to 2004 because the documents are privileged under federal and state case law in that Defendant, who was charged with three counts of third[-]degree assault on a law enforcement officer cannot, as a matter of law, make any showing that the privileges attached to such information should be disregarded for any use in his defense against the underlying criminal charges, and, further during proceedings before Respondent, Defendant made no showing of either relevancy or materiality of the information nor did he state an articulable reason how such information would provide a defense to the underlying charges.

We read the City's point and argument to be two-fold, (1) that the information sought by Harris is privileged and (2) that Harris made no showing of either relevancy or materiality. We reject both claims.

The City's argument, contrary to its point relied on, focuses on prior discovery requests by Defendant, but does not explain why the actual order made by Respondent was an abuse of discretion. For instance, the City alludes to section 610.011 et seq. (the Sunshine Law)1 in the general sense of internal affairs investigations but never explains how this specific order violates any provisions of the Sunshine Law other than to state "[t]he working files of the Internal Affairs division, are better categorized as closed records under § 610.021(3) ... and § 610.021(13)...." We note Respondent did not order all the working files of the internal affairs division to be released to Defendant; he ordered statements given by the officers and citizen complaints.

Inexplicably, the City cites a case, Wolfskill v. Henderson, 823 S.W.2d 112, 114 (Mo.App. W.D.1991), for the proposition that "[t]he records sought by Defendant, which involve police officer conduct and fitness matters, are recognized as privileged from public disclosure and criminal prosecutions" without distinguishing a case from our Supreme Court which expressly overruled it. In Guyer v. City of Kirkwood, 38 S.W.3d 412 (Mo. banc 2001), the court analyzed various provisions of the Sunshine Law; we find the analysis to be instructive and binding on this Court. The court set forth section 610.100.2, which provides in relevant 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.

Id. at 413. The court noted that under this statute, "incident reports" are open records, and by implication, once the ensuing investigation becomes inactive, "investigative reports" become open records as well. Id. at 414.

In contrast, the court noted 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 ... [.]

Id. The court then held:

[T]he 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 law." Where, as here, a specific statute requires disclosure of a specific type of public record, section 610.021 may not be relied on to maintain closure, although it would otherwise apply.


In analyzing whether more than one provision of Chapter 610 applies, the court reasoned:

[T]he decision to open or close the record must be informed by the express public policy stated in section 610.011.1, which is that all records of public governmental bodies are presumed to be open records and that the exceptions in sections 610.010 to 610.028, including those in section 610.021, are to be strictly construed to promote that policy. In effect, section 610.011.1 should be used as a tiebreaker in favor of disclosure when records fit equally well under two specific but opposite provisions of the Sunshine Law.


The court specifically noted the City of Kirkwood's reliance on Wolfskill for the proposition that all records of internal investigations of police officers can be closed as personnel records to be misplaced. Id. The court also...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 cases
  • State ex rel. Jackson Cnty. Prosecuting Attorney v. Prokes
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • December 20, 2011
    ...A writ of prohibition will lie when the trial court abuses its discretion during the discovery process. State ex rel. City of Springfield v. Brown, 181 S.W.3d 219, 221 (Mo.App. S.D.2005). “Judicial discretion is abused when the trial court's ruling is clearly against the logic of the circum......
  • State v. Jackson
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • August 12, 2011
    ...qualified: government agencies cannot close records when disclosure is “otherwise required by law.” In State ex rel. City of Springfield v. Brown, 181 S.W.3d 219 (Mo.App.2005), this Court specifically addressed the argument that a written statement concerning an incident that a police offic......
1 books & journal articles
  • Discovery and investigation
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Attacking and Defending Drunk Driving Tests
    • May 5, 2021
    ...from such iles is discoverable if the defense can make a proper showing. [ State ex rel. City of Springield v. Brown (Mo. App. S.D. 2005) 181 S.W.3d 219; People v. Trujillo (Colo. App 2004) 114 P.3d 27; People v. Foley (1999) 257 A.D.2d 243, 256, 692 N.Y.S.2d 248 (police personnel records a......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT