Wolfskill v. Henderson, WD

Decision Date24 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. WD,WD
Citation823 S.W.2d 112
PartiesJerry WOLFSKILL, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Chief D. Greg HENDERSON, et al., Defendants-Respondents. 44288.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Michael Allan Wee, Kansas City, for plaintiffs-appellants.

William C. Martucci, Linda P. Guevel, Kansas City, and Debra L. Moore, Lee's Summit, for defendants-respondents.


LOWENSTEIN, Chief Judge.

Appellants Jerry and Mickey R. Wolfskill requested disclosure of police department internal investigation records from the City of Lee's Summit, Missouri, Police Department and from other city officials. These officials denied appellants' request, stating they were closed under Missouri Sunshine Law, §§ 610.010-610.028, RSMo 1986, and the policies and ordinances of Lee's Summit ("City"). Appellants filed a suit for injunctive relief under § 610.027(1), seeking to enforce the public access provisions of the Sunshine Law. A court-tried case resulted in a judgment for respondents, finding that the records in question were properly closed from public scrutiny. Three points are raised on appeal: 1) the trial court erred as a matter of law in ruling that the investigative police reports were "personnel records" closed to appellants within the meaning of the Sunshine Law, 2) the court erred as a matter of law in ruling the city policies and ordinances were consistent with the Missouri Sunshine Law, and 3) the trial court erred as a matter of law in ruling that respondents did not purposefully violate the Sunshine Law in not maintaining a written policy under § 610.028.2, not designating a records custodian under § 610.023.1, or not responding in a timely fashion to appellants' request for access under § 610.023.3-.4.

Under the standard and scope of review, Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976), this court accepts the findings of fact of the trial court. Initially, the following communications between appellants and the City occurred regarding appellants' access to investigative records:

1. On July 5, 1988, appellants filed a citizens complaint with the police department. On August 17, Chief Henderson sent appellants a letter stating that the investigation had resulted in disciplinary action against involved officers.

2. In August, 1988, appellant Jerry Wolfskill called the police department requesting access to the investigative file, and was told that it was closed to the public.

3. On March 22, 1989, appellants' retained counsel called Chief Henderson requesting access to the records, and asking for dept. policy on such requests.

4. Chief Henderson did not respond.

5. On March 23, 1989, appellants' counsel spoke with Rick Curneal, an administrator, again requesting access. Again access was denied, on the specific ground that the record was part of the City's personnel records, and closed to the public.

6. On May 30, 1989, appellants' counsel wrote to City's counsel, requesting access to the records.

7. On July 13, 1989, City's counsel denied access by letter, relying on City Ordinance No. 3125, Policy 85-80, and Missouri Sunshine Law.

The following policies and ordinances enacted by the City Board of Aldermen were in force during the above events:

Policy 85-80 on internal affairs investigations: "... all other documents, reports, forms and papers gathered during the investigation shall become part of the City's personnel records, and a copy of the final report shall be included in the personnel file of any employee affected by the investigation."

Ordinance No. 3125: "... Section 3. Except to the extent disclosure is otherwise required by law, and subject to additional actions on the part of the City of Lee's Summit as may be required by law, all meetings, records, and votes of the City of Lee's Summit or its governmental bodies are closed to the public, to the extent they relate to the following: ... (3) Hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting an employee of a public governmental body ... (10) Individually identifiable personnel records, performance ratings, or records pertaining to employees ...;"

Chief Henderson is the actual physical custodian of internal affairs records of the police department, while other personnel records for the police department are kept by Rick Curneal, assistant City administrator, with all other City records. Section 610.021, RSMo 1986, authorizes a public governmental body to close records to the extent they relate to "[h]iring, firing, disciplining or promoting an employee of a public governmental body," or to "[i]ndividually identifiable personnel records." The trial court's in camera inspection of the internal investigation file in question revealed the following types of documents: the citizen complaint, correspondence with the citizens, interoffice memos on progress of investigation, statements from persons concerning events of complaint, reports of investigative officers recommending disciplinary measures, and administrative orders implementing disciplinary steps.


Appellants argue that the investigative file was improperly labelled a "personnel" record by the City, and so improperly closed without a consideration of its contents. This court disagrees. First, this investigative file could be closed from public scrutiny. Section 610.021 and the City ordinance allow closure of records "to the extent they relate to" the disciplining of a public employee or individually identifiable personnel records. In the case of Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802, 804-05 (Mo.App.1979), the court explicitly found that an internal investigatory file on the death of a man in police custody was made in contemplation of disciplinary proceedings which may have resulted in firing a public employee, and as such was subject to the closure authorizations of then § 610.025(4), RSMo Cum.Supp.1975. This court notes that the statute then allowed closure of records relating to "hiring, firing, or promotion of personnel" whereas the current statute includes "disciplining" personnel as an appropriate topic for closed records. It is clear that the file in question does, in the meaning of § 610.021, relate to the disciplining of a public employee. The trial court's in camera inspection of the file reveals that all documents relate to the incident which resulted in disciplinary action against several City police officers. As Chief Henderson testified, the totality of the investigative file is used to determine the appropriate, if any, departmental action on the matter. Also, the justifications for closing the file at all, though not spelled out in the statutes or in the City ordinances, are weighty. Chief Henderson noted that it is important to maintain confidentiality to encourage future cooperation with an internal investigation. In addition to police cooperation, testimony in Wilson revealed that much of such an investigation involved rumor and hearsay, often involving innocent civilians. Id. at 805. Practically speaking, Chief Henderson was well advised to place the documents in a file separate from other personnel records, and there is ample evidence that the entire investigative file related to a disciplinary matter. Therefore, the City had the authority, under Missouri state law and City ordinances, to close this record...

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7 cases
  • State v. Donovan
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • October 24, 2017
    ...extent they relate to the disciplining of a public employee or individually identifiable personnel records); Wolfskill v. Henderson , 823 S.W.2d 112, 114 (Mo. App. W.D. 1991) (internal investigatory file of police department may be kept closed from public scrutiny). However, this general pr......
  • State ex rel. City of Springfield v. Brown
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • January 31, 2006
    ...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......
  • State ex rel. King v. Sheffield
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • June 29, 1995
    ...the file sought by the accused in Ritchie was confidential. The records Pierce subpoenaed are closed records by reason of § 610.021, RSMo Cum.Supp.1993. 5 Wolfskill v. Henderson, 823 S.W.2d 112, 113-14 In State ex rel. Jackson County Grand Jury v. Shinn, 835 S.W.2d 347 (Mo.App.W.D.1992), th......
  • Guyer v. City of Kirkwood
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • March 6, 2001
    ...when records fit equally well under two specific but opposite provisions of the Sunshine Law. The City's reliance on Wolfskill v. Henderson, 823 S.W.2d 112 (Mo. App. 1991), and Wilson v. McNeal, 575 S.W.2d 802 (Mo. App. 1978), for the proposition that all records of internal investigations ......
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