Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Glasgow School District v. Howard County Coroner

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Special Division

April 16, 2019

GLASGOW SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondent,
v.
HOWARD COUNTY CORONER, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HOWARD COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE SCOTT ALAN HAYES, JUDGE

          Before: Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Presiding Judge, Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge and Kelly Broniec, Special Judge.

          EDWARD R. ARDINI, JR., JUDGE.

         The Howard County Coroner ("the Coroner") appeals the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the Glasgow School District ("the School District"). The trial court found that the Coroner had wrongfully denied the School District access to open public records in violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law. The trial court left unresolved whether the Coroner's violation was knowing or purposeful, and did not decide issues relating to the imposition of civil penalties and the award of attorney fees and costs. At the request of the Coroner, the trial court entered judgment pursuant to Rule 74.01(b).[1] We find, however, that the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the School District did not fully adjudicate a distinct judicial unit and is therefore not an appealable judgment. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On January 31, 2017, the Coroner held an inquest regarding the death of K.S.[2] The inquest was conducted at the Howard County Courthouse before six jurors and was open to the general public. Several exhibits were offered during the inquest and a court reporter was present and recorded the proceeding.

         On March 2, 2017, the School District sent the Coroner a written "request for records under the Missouri Sunshine Law, Chapter 610, Revised Statutes of Missouri."[3] The School District specifically requested "[t]he hearing transcript, as well as all associated documents and exhibits presented" at the inquest. The Coroner responded by e-mail on March 13, 2017, indicating the requested records "were not open records" because they were "part of [the special prosecutor's] criminal investigation." The Coroner advised that once the special prosecutor "release[d] these records" he would "make copies."

         The School District filed this action to obtain access to the records, alleging that the Coroner violated the Sunshine Law by failing to adequately respond to the School District's written request for records and by wrongfully denying access to open public records. The School District contended that the Coroner "purposefully or, in the alternative, knowingly failed to produce the records requested on March 2, 2017."[4] The School District requested the trial court (1) declare the requested records open and not subject to any exception that would permit them to be closed; (2) enter an injunction requiring the Coroner to provide the School District with copies of the records; (3) find the Coroner purposely, or in the alternative, knowingly violated the Sunshine Law; (4) impose a civil penalty against the Coroner; and (5) award the School District attorney fees and costs as authorized by the Sunshine Law.

         In his answer, the Coroner admitted that his office is a public governmental body subject to the Missouri Sunshine Law, but denied that his actions had violated the provisions of Chapter 610. The Coroner asserted as an affirmative defense that the office of the Coroner is a law enforcement agency and, as such, any record of the inquest is an investigative report exempt from disclosure under section 610.100.1(5).[5]

         The School District filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, arguing that the uncontroverted material facts demonstrated that the Coroner's office is not a law enforcement agency and that the requested records are not "investigative reports" that can be closed under section 610.100. The School District requested the trial court "enter partial summary judgment in its favor" and "enter an injunction requiring [the Coroner] to provide [the School District] with copies of the records requested." The Coroner opposed the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.

         On October 9, 2017, the trial court granted the School District's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. The trial court found that the Coroner wrongfully denied the School District access to open public records, that the Coroner's office is not a "law enforcement agency," and that it "cannot close the records requested by [the School District] as 'investigative reports.'" The trial court ordered the Coroner to provide the School District "with copies of the transcript made of, and all exhibits offered during, the Howard County Coroner's Inquest held on or around January 31, 2017[.]"[6]

         The Coroner filed a Motion to Amend Judgment Pursuant to Rule 74.01(b).[7] The Coroner acknowledged in his motion that the judgment entered by the trial court was interlocutory in that it "did not dispose of all claims and remedies requested" in the School District's Petition. The Coroner asked that the judgment "be certified under Rule 74.01(b) with an express statement that there is no just cause for delay, allowing an appeal of this order[.]" The School District opposed the motion. It argued that the trial court could not make an express finding of "no just cause for delay" and enter judgment pursuant to Rule 74.01(b) because "that Rule cannot be invoked by a trial court unless one complete claim is fully adjudicated."[8] The School District maintained that the trial court had not fully disposed of its claim against the Coroner for violation of Missouri's Sunshine Law, noting its requests for costs, attorney fees and civil penalties remained pending before the trial court. The trial court took the motion under advisement.

         The School District filed another Motion for Summary Judgment, this time seeking the additional finding that the Coroner's violation of Chapter 610 was knowing or purposeful. The School District requested the trial court enter a civil penalty against the Coroner and order the Coroner to pay the reasonable attorney fees incurred by the School District.

         On June 14, 2018, the trial court issued its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Judgment. The trial court did not rule on the School District's second motion for summary judgment. Rather, the trial court explained that: "After further review of the [School District's] Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and [the Coroner's] motion requesting this Court to amend and/or certify the Partial Summary Judgment entered on October 9, 2017 . . . the Court enters the following findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment[.]" The trial court restated its previous findings that the Coroner wrongfully denied the School District access to open public records, that the Coroner's office is not a "law enforcement agency," and that it "cannot close the records requested by [the School District] as 'investigative reports.'" Unlike in the previous judgment, however, the trial court "order[ed] that this Judgment be certified final ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.