The city of Raytown is seeking to reverse a $42,550 judgment against it for violating Missouri’s Sunshine Law, arguing it did not wrongly deny a records request because the requestor had previously notified the city of a claim.
In oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District on Oct. 23, the city maintained that Jackson County Circuit Judge S. Margene Burnett erroneously granted the requester, Paula Wyrick of Lee’s Summit, summary judgment in her suit because the documents Wyrick sought were connected to her prior threat of litigation against the city.
In a February judgment, Burnett ordered the city to pay $4,000 in civil penalties to Wyrick and $38,550 in attorneys’ fees to her attorneys, Stephen Gorny and Chris Dandurand of The Gorny Law Firm.
Wyrick is the daughter of Cecile Leggio, a woman who died of injuries sustained in a December 2016 vehicle crash at 67th Street and Ralston Avenue in Raytown.
In July 2017, the firm requested city records about the intersection on Wyrick’s behalf, including safety complaints, accident records and records of traffic or other diagnostic studies conducted there.
Five days later, according to the suit, City Clerk Teresa Henry responded and denied the request, basing the denial on a provision of the Sunshine Law that allows for the closure of records related to legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body.
The city denied three additional requests for the same records on the same grounds and the firm filed a suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in October 2017.
In 2018, Burnett granted Wyrick partial summary judgment, ordering the city to search for and produce records pertaining to the design of the intersection and traffic or other diagnostic studies conducted at the intersection. She later ruled that the city’s actions rose to a knowing and purposeful violation of the Sunshine Law and ordered it to pay civil penalties.
At least two members of the panel expressed skepticism about the city’s position on appeal.
Judge Edward R. Ardini Jr. said the clerk took the unusual position in the underlying case that a specific category of records could only be closed to Wyrick and her lawyers, but others could request them.
“I’ve been at this for almost three decades,” he said. “I’ve never heard that argument used as to who the requestor is, to determine whether the records are closed under this provision.”
Henry’s attorney, Wesley Carrillo of Ensz & Jester, disagreed that his client made that point in her testimony. He said she instead testified that it would not have mattered who requested the records because they would have been closed.
Judge Cynthia L. Martin also pressed Carrillo on the same point, repeatedly trying to get an answer to the question of whether the same records would be closed to other parties, such as a reporter, a neighbor down the street, or even herself.
Carrillo ultimately said they would be closed to others as well. Gorny, who argued on Wyrick’s behalf, maintained that Henry’s testimony was that other people could ask for the closed records and receive them.
Gorny also argued that Henry’s violation was knowing and purposeful.
“Clerk Henry is well versed on the Sunshine Law,” he said. “She has all the manuals in her office, she gets continued education training on the Sunshine Law every single year. And she admitted but for that notice of claim on file, these are open records that I would have received.”
The case is Wyrick v. Henry, WD82557.