Under these circumstances, the Court finds that Defendant purposefully violated the Sunshine Law, and Plaintiffs are entitled to a statutory penalty...

ST. LOUIS – Judge Jason Sengheiser of the 22nd Judicial Circuit found that the City of St. Louis Division of Corrections “purposefully violated the Sunshine Law” by repeatedly extending completion dates on a Sunshine Law request by ArchCity Defenders without providing the cause for delay, as is required. The judge’s order grants a statutory penalty of $3,000.00 and sets a hearing date for attorney fees.  

The order states:  

"In fact, Defendant failed to discuss the cause for the delays at all with the Custodian of records before providing Plaintiffs with assumed causes for delay and simply stating dates upon which records would be ready - only to repeatedly extend those dates until Plaintiffs filed the instant cause of action. Then when a lawsuit was filed, the records were turned over nine days later.  

“Under these circumstances, the Court finds that Defendant purposefully violated the Sunshine Law, and Plaintiffs are entitled to a statutory penalty..." 

The ACLU of Missouri filed a petition on behalf of ArchCity Defenders and Maureen Hanlon, an attorney at ArchCity Defenders, against the Division of Corrections after they repeatedly violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The original request sought “access to all use of force reports completed by correctional staff from October 2020 through present day [of request] that relate to the use of chemical agent at the City Justice Center” as well as definitions of terms. The City’s Division of Corrections changed the expected fulfillment date five separate times, each without providing a substantive response regarding the request and no further explanation of the ongoing delay. No records were provided until nine days after the petition was filed with the court.  

“Missouri’s Sunshine Law is a tool for the public to achieve the state’s policy of government transparency and, when appropriate, to hold both state and local governmental entities accountable to the people they serve when they fail to be as transparent as required,” said Gillian Wilcox, Deputy Director for Litigation at the ACLU of Missouri. “This case not only exemplifies the lengths to which governmental actors will go to fight transparency, but illustrates how such behavior further erodes trust in the government.”   

 “We are grateful that the Judge recognized the City’s actions were deliberately taken to thwart the clear law requiring transparency from government actors,” said Maureen Hanlon, Managing Attorney for Civil Rights Litigation at ArchCity Defenders and Plaintiff. “These actions are just one of dozens of times we have seen the City, particularly the Division of Corrections, delay and obfuscate their records request responses with simply no explanation. Hopefully, this serves as a wake-up call” 

Read the court order.