Wilson v. McNeal, Nos. 39223

CourtMissouri Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtSNYDER; DOWD, P. J., and ALDEN A. STOCKARD
Citation575 S.W.2d 802
Parties4 Media L. Rep. 2369 Barbara T. WILSON, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Theodore D. McNEAL et al., Defendants-Appellants. The PULITZER PUBLISHING COMPANY, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Theodore D. McNEAL et al., Defendants-Appellants. . Louis District, Division Four
Docket NumberNos. 39223,39264
Decision Date05 December 1978

Page 802

575 S.W.2d 802
4 Media L. Rep. 2369
Barbara T. WILSON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Theodore D. McNEAL et al., Defendants-Appellants.
The PULITZER PUBLISHING COMPANY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Theodore D. McNEAL et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Nos. 39223, 39264.
Missouri Court of Appeals, St. Louis District, Division Four.
Dec. 5, 1978.
Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Denied
Jan. 12, 1979.
Applications to Transfer Denied Feb. 13, 1979.

Page 803

Albert J. Stephan, Jr., Kenneth C. Brostron, Lashly, Caruthers, Thies, Rava & Hammel, St. Louis, for defendants-appellants.

Benjamin Roth of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, St. Louis, for Barbara T. Wilson.

Robert B. Hoemeke, Evans, Hoemeke & Casey, St. Louis, for The Pulitzer Pub. Co.

SNYDER, Judge.

Respondents, the Pulitzer Publishing Company (Pulitzer) and Barbara T. Wilson (Wilson), in separate suits against appellants, members of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners (Board) were granted injunctions by the trial court, enjoining the Board, among other things, from denying respondents access to a report made by the Bureau of Inspections of the St. Louis Police Department pertaining to an investigation into the death of Joseph Lee Wilson. The Board has appealed from the judgments granting the injunctions. Upon motion, the cases were consolidated for appeal. The judgments are reversed and remanded with instructions to dissolve the injunctions.

Page 804

This is a case of first impression under Missouri's Sunshine Law, Chapter 610, RSMo Cum.Supp.1975. The question to be answered is whether the exemptions from disclosure authorized in § 610.025 1 are limited in any way as to time. This court holds that an investigatory record, closed as authorized in § 610.025(4) is not required to be opened to the public after the investigation is concluded and a final decision made to take no action based on the report.

Joseph Lee Wilson died on August 25, 1971 while in police custody. Investigation was conducted by the Internal Affairs Division of the Bureau of Inspections of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to determine whether Wilson's death was caused by misconduct on the part of any personnel of the St. Louis Police Department.

Pulitzer had filed suit earlier against the Board requesting the trial court to order the Board to grant Pulitzer access to certain arrest registers, arrest records and police reports of the St. Louis Police Department and to permanently enjoin the Board from denying Pulitzer access to those documents. Section 610.030 of the Sunshine Law specifically authorizes circuit courts to grant injunctive relief. While Pulitzer's arrest record suit was pending the Inspector of Police transmitted the Wilson report to the Board for its review.

On August 25, 1976 by unanimous vote the Board found the charge that unidentified police officers were responsible for Wilson's death "is not sustained." According to Board rules this finding meant that there was insufficient evidence available to either prove or disprove the allegations in the complaint. Pulitzer and representatives of Wilson demanded the right to inspect the Wilson report. The Board refused to accede to their demands.

Pulitzer then amended its earlier petition relating to arrest records to include a request that the Board be enjoined from denying it access to reports of completed investigations filed with the Board by the Bureau of Inspections. While the Pulitzer suit was pending, the Board adopted a policy permitting public inspection of the arrest records and no issue relating to these records has been raised on appeal.

Barbara T. Wilson filed her petition for injunction on September 24, 1976 seeking to prevent the Board from denying her access to the report of the Bureau of Inspections concerning the incidents surrounding and leading up to the death of her husband, Joseph Lee Wilson, and the records prepared by or submitted to the Bureau of Inspections in connection with its investigation and upon which the report on Joseph Lee Wilson's death "was based and from which the report was prepared."

Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed in both cases.

The affidavit of Inspector of Police, Lt. Col. Atkins Warren, Commander of the Bureau of Inspections, was filed in support of the Board's motion for summary judgment. The affidavit described the mission of the Bureau of Inspections and the circumstances of the Bureau's investigation of the Wilson death. Lt. Col. Atkins Warren further stated such investigations are of a confidential nature and that the resulting reports contain elements of hearsay. According to the affidavit, the disclosure of such an internal investigation file would seriously compromise the mission of the Bureau of Inspections.

An August 25, 1976 statement of Col. T. D. McNeal on behalf of the Board was also filed in support of the Board's motion for summary judgment. The statement set forth the refusal to make a public disclosure of the Wilson investigatory file. It was also pointed out in the statement that investigations of the death of Mr. Wilson had been made by the Homicide Division, the Inspector of Police, the Coroner's Office, a St. Louis circuit court grand jury, a federal grand jury, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and that none of these seven agencies had found sufficient evidence to justify proceeding against any member of the St. Louis Police Department.

Page 805

Col. McNeal stated it was a Board policy of many years standing not to make public any investigatory file. He said further that there were numerous good reasons for the policy and among them listed the following:

(a) Investigators assigned to the Inspector's Office and the Homicide Division are required to check out every lead, including hearsay and rumors. Thus, the names of many innocent persons appear in these files. The release of such files could lead to the unjust ruin of reputations and careers of innocent citizens;

(b) Police Officers who submit reports must feel free to honestly state their opinions and conclusions without the fear that these remarks will be made public, or possibly subject them to personal liability.

The trial court granted Pulitzer's motion for summary judgment by ruling that "completed reports of investigations made by the Bureau of Inspections, after the matter is finally closed and no litigation nor hiring, firing or promotion of personnel is contemplated, should be records open to the public" and permanently enjoined the Board from denying Pulitzer access to such completed reports, specifically including the Wilson report.

The trial court granted Wilson's motion for summary judgment and permanently enjoined and restrained the Board from denying plaintiff the opportunity to inspect the report made by the Bureau of Inspections on the death of Joseph Lee Wilson and the records prepared by or submitted to the Inspector's Office in connection with the investigation and upon which the report was based and from which it was prepared.

The Board's appeals followed.

This has been a difficult decision. The very basic right of the public to be fully informed of government activities conflicts with the obvious necessity for restraints on this right to know in the case of litigation, meetings and records relating to personnel, mental health matters, military matters and juvenile and certain other court proceedings. The conflict here is one between the philosophy of openness in government, which for the last few years has been the subject of much discussion and legislation on both the federal and state levels, and the recognized need for confidentiality in certain special situations. The legislature recognized both the need for openness and the concomitant need for exempting certain types of information from disclosure when it passed the Sunshine Law in 1973. This conflict, coupled with the need to divine the legislative intent behind the Sunshine Law, presents a problem of some magnitude, and is further complicated by a lack of precedent in this developing field of law.

The first open records law was passed by the General Assembly in 1961 but it was never referred to as a Sunshine Law, perhaps because that designation had not yet come into fashion. It provides in §§ 109.180 and 109.190, RSMo 1969 that "except as otherwise provided by law, all state, county and municipal records kept pursuant to statute or ordinance shall at all reasonable times be open for a personal inspection by any citizen of Missouri, . . . ." Penalties are provided for noncompliance.

Not all government records are kept pursuant to statute or ordinance, however, and the 1973 Sunshine law, in an all inclusive definition, describes public records as "any record retained by or of any public governmental body . . . ." § 610.010(4).

A public governmental body is defined as:

(A)ny 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 rulemaking or quasi-judicial power. (§ 610.010(2)).

The statute then mandates open meetings and public disclosure of "public records" as follows:

Except as provided in section 610.025, and except as otherwise provided by law, all

Page 806

public votes shall be recorded, and if a roll call is taken, as to attribute each "yea" or "nay" vote, or abstinence if not voting, to the name of the individual members of the public governmental body, and all public meetings shall be open to the public and public votes and public records shall be open to the public for inspection and duplication. (§ 610.015).

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31 practice notes
  • Hyde v. City of Columbia, No. WD
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • June 15, 1982
    ...of public records against the confidentiality essential to the proper conduct of certain governmental operations. Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 805 (Mo.App.1978). An arrest record is made a public record-not by the omnibus definition of § 610.010(4) (any record retained by or of any pub......
  • Pollock v. Wetterau Food Distribution Group
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • December 14, 1999
    ...effect to the statute as written and cannot add provisions which do not appear either explicitly or by implication. Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 810 (Mo.App. E.D. 1978). The MCHR was perfectly capable of setting forth affirmative defenses in the language of 8 C.S.R. 60-3.04(17)(c). Oth......
  • State v. Beadshaw, WD57922
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • March 29, 2002
    ...or by implication from other language in the statute.'" State v. Oris, 892 S.W.2d 770, 772 (Mo. App. 1995) (quoting Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 810 (Mo. App. Looking at the plain language of section 570.030.4, the second sentence of that subsection specifically mentions the theft of a......
  • Harrison v. MFA Mut. Ins. Co. , No. 61940
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • September 9, 1980
    ...should not be added by a court under the guise of construction to accomplish an end the court deems beneficial." Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 809 (Mo. App. We also note that in Missouri, one may lawfully drive an automobile without first having secured automobile liability insurance be......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
31 cases
  • Hyde v. City of Columbia, No. WD
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • June 15, 1982
    ...of public records against the confidentiality essential to the proper conduct of certain governmental operations. Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 805 (Mo.App.1978). An arrest record is made a public record-not by the omnibus definition of § 610.010(4) (any record retained by or of any pub......
  • Pollock v. Wetterau Food Distribution Group
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • December 14, 1999
    ...effect to the statute as written and cannot add provisions which do not appear either explicitly or by implication. Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 810 (Mo.App. E.D. 1978). The MCHR was perfectly capable of setting forth affirmative defenses in the language of 8 C.S.R. 60-3.04(17)(c). Oth......
  • State v. Beadshaw, WD57922
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • March 29, 2002
    ...or by implication from other language in the statute.'" State v. Oris, 892 S.W.2d 770, 772 (Mo. App. 1995) (quoting Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 810 (Mo. App. Looking at the plain language of section 570.030.4, the second sentence of that subsection specifically mentions the theft of a......
  • Harrison v. MFA Mut. Ins. Co. , No. 61940
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • September 9, 1980
    ...should not be added by a court under the guise of construction to accomplish an end the court deems beneficial." Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 809 (Mo. App. We also note that in Missouri, one may lawfully drive an automobile without first having secured automobile liability insurance be......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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