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Petruska v. City of Kinloch

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

July 17, 2018

LYNETTE PETRUSKA, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF KINLOCH, MISSOURI, Defendant/Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Michael T. Jamison

          LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Lynette Petruska, appeals the summary judgment entered by the Circuit Court of St. Louis County concluding that the defendant, the City of Kinloch, violated Chapter 610 (RSMo. 2016), [1] commonly known as the Sunshine Law, but that the violation was not knowing or purposeful. Petruska challenges the trial court's determination that the City did not knowingly or purposely violate the Sunshine Law.

         The critical question is the City's intent when it violated the Sunshine Law, which is a question of fact. Resolution of Petruska's challenge requires the fact-finder to make credibility determinations and choose among competing inferences, determinations that are not permitted at the summary-judgment stage. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for determination whether the City's violation was either knowing or purposeful, thus subjecting the City to the potential imposition of a civil penalty and attorney's fees.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Petruska is an attorney who represented the City's mayor-elect in a municipal charge of misrepresentation of authority and in impeachment proceedings. During an appearance in the City's municipal court, police arrested Petruska for purportedly causing a disturbance.

         Petruska then sent numerous requests for records to the City pursuant to Missouri's Sunshine Law. Among her requests sent in early October 2015 was one for the name, length of service, and salary of each employee of the City, other than its police officers. The City responded with a list of employee names, job titles, and length of service along with the municipal ordinance setting forth the pay range for each of 29 job titles. The City, however, did not provide the amount of each employee's actual salary.

         Petruska repeated her request for employee salary information in late October 2015 and February 2016. Meanwhile, the City consulted its legal counsel, and twice consulted the Attorney General's Office. The Attorney General's Office responded to the City's first inquiry, stating in relevant part:

The Missouri Sunshine Law states in § 610.021(13), RSMo that a body cannot close the names, positions, salaries or lengths of service of officers and employees of the public agencies. It appears that Ms. Petruska has asked for the City of Kinloch to provide her with the salaries [of] its' (sic) employees. The Missouri Sunshine Law does not address the issue of a salary range and simply states that the salaries of employees will be made available.

         The Attorney General's Office responded to the City's second inquiry, informing the City that its elected officials must request a formal advisory opinion. The City's board of aldermen voted to request a formal advisory opinion from the Attorney General's Office in March 2016. About three weeks later, Petruska filed suit under the Sunshine Law, never having received specific salary information for the City's employees.

         Petruska filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion in part, concluding that the City violated the Sunshine Law by providing only salary ranges instead of actual salaries for its employees.[2] The trial court also denied the summary judgment motion in part, concluding that the City's violation was not knowing or purposeful because it provided salary ranges in response to Petruska's request.[3] Petruska appeals. Because the question of the City's intent requires the trial court to make credibility determinations and draw inferences, it should not have been resolved at the summary-judgment stage. Therefore, we reverse the trial court's conclusion that the City's violation was not knowing or purposeful, and we remand for determination of that question.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment allows a trial court to enter judgment for the moving party where the party demonstrates a right to judgment as a matter of law based on facts about which there is no genuine dispute. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp.,854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). Our review is essentially de novo. Id. When considering an appeal from summary judgment, we ...


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