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Furlow v. Belmar

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 11, 2017

DWAYNE FURLOW, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JON BELMAR, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CAROL E. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' motion to inspect juvenile records pursuant to Missouri Revised Statute § 210.150.[1] Defendants have responded in opposition, and the issues are fully briefed.

         In the amended complaint, plaintiff Ralph Torres alleges that in 2014 or 2015 he “faced investigation by the Division of Child Protective Services for alleged sexual misconduct involving his two minor children.” Amd. Complaint ¶85 [Doc. # 14]. The juvenile records sought by the plaintiffs pertain to a forensic interview of one of Torres' children, identified as S.T., that was conducted by the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS). Torres alleges that although the sexual misconduct allegations were unsubstantiated, he was unlawfully arrested by St. Louis County police officer defendant Laura Clements. In her deposition, Clements testified that she believed that she had probable cause for the arrest after viewing the recording of the S.T. interview. According to DSS, the recording of the interview is in the possession of The Child Center, Inc. in Wentzville, Missouri.

         Plaintiffs argue that the requested records are pertinent to the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims asserted in this action. Plaintiffs further argue that a statutory exception to Missouri's confidentiality rules, covering reporting of the abuse of juveniles, allows for the disclosure of these records. Defendants argue that plaintiffs have not overcome the strong interest in protecting the confidentiality of records in child abuse cases.

         Section 210.150 provides that “[t]he children's division shall ensure the confidentiality of all reports and records” made in response to reports of child abuse or neglect and maintained by any division office or affiliated institution.[2] Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 210.150, 210.109.2. Subsection 2 of the statute identifies categories of persons authorized to have access to investigative records, including:

Any alleged perpetrator named in the report, but the names of reporters shall not be furnished to persons in this category. Prior to the release of any identifying information, the division shall determine if the release of such identifying information may place a person's life or safety in danger. If the division makes the determination that a person's life or safety may be in danger, the identifying information shall not be released. However, the investigation reports will not be released to any alleged perpetrator with pending criminal charges arising out of the facts and circumstances named in the investigation records until an indictment is returned or an information filed [.]

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 210.150.2(5).

         Therefore, the statute authorizes plaintiff Torres to have access to the records at issue. The defendants do not contend that providing the records (1) would endanger a person or (2) that any criminal charges are pending against Torres. § 210.150.2(5). Moreover, “there is no apparent basis under federal law to allow defendant[s] to withhold” the records. Jiang v. Porter, No. 4:15-CV-1008 (CEJ), 2016 WL 3015163, at *4 (E.D. Mo. May 26, 2016) (citing Farley v. Farley, 952 F.Supp. 1232, 1242 (M.D. Tenn. 1997) (“[T]he statutory and administrative scheme under Tennessee law ensuring only limited disclosure of child abuse files must yield to a supervening interest in their production and use in federal civil rights actions.”)); c.f. State ex rel. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Tucker, 413 S.W.3d 646 (Mo. 2013) (denying a request for the identity of reporting individuals because no exception to the rule of confidentiality provided by section 210.510 applied); Young v. Pitts, 335 S.W.3d 47, 55-56 (Mo.Ct.App. 2011) (holding that a parent was entitled to any investigative records under a section 210.510 exception); Pitts v. Williams, 315 S.W.3d 755, 765 (Mo.Ct.App. 2010) (holding that “[p]ursuant to section 210.510.2(5), the investigative records contemplated by that statute are accessible by an alleged perpetrator, subject to redaction as contemplated by the statute and subject to the Children's Division's determination that the release of the records will not endanger a person's life or safety, unless the alleged perpetrator has been charged with a felony”).

         The Court must recognize the countervailing interests of the privacy and protection of the reporters. See State v. Davison, 884 S.W.2d 701, 703 (Mo.Ct.App. 1994) (the state has a “compelling interest in protecting its child abuse information.”) Further, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 510.035 provides guidelines for disclosure of any visual or aural recordings of a minor alleged to be a victim of an abuse offense. Specifically, the statute provides that any court order for copying or distribution of such recordings must:

(1) Be limited solely to the use of the recordings or photographs for the purposes of a pending court proceeding or in preparation for a pending court proceeding;
(2) Prohibit further copying, reproduction, or distribution of the recordings or photographs; and
(3) Require, upon the final disposition of the case, the return of all copies to the health care provider, child assessment center or multidisciplinary team member that originally had possession of the recordings or photographs, or provide an affidavit to the health care provider, child assessment center or multidisciplinary team member that originally had possession of the recordings or photographs certifying that all copies have been destroyed.

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 510.035.3.

         The protections set forth in the statute will assist in balancing the considerable privacy issues arising from these ...


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