Access to Public Records in Missouri

Note: This page covers information specific to Missouri. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.

Missouri combines its public records and public meetings laws into one statute. It defines public records very broadly and has no limitations on who can request records. You do not have to state a purpose to access records.

What Records Are Covered in Missouri

What Government Bodies Are Covered

Any "public governmental body"  is subject to the public records law. A public governmental body is defined under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.010.4(4) as any "legislative, administrative or governmental entity" that includes any agency, council, committee, any governing body of any public institution of higher education, departments or divisions of the state, any quasi-public body (meaning any person or business whose primary purpose is to contract with public bodies or perform a public function, such as tax abatement) and legislative/administrative bodies with the power to make rules or hear and decide cases.

What Types of Records Can Be Requested?

Public records, defined in Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.010.6(6), include any written or electronic report, survey, memorandum or any other document retained by or prepared for a public body. Internal memoranda prepared for a public body with advice, opinions and recommendations are excluded unless they are retained by the body or presented at a public meeting.

Both arrest reports and incident reports — any record with the date, time and location of an incident and the name of the victim with whatever facts surround the the incident — are open to the public. Investigative reports, which inquire into a crime in response to either an arrest or incident report, are closed until the investigation becomes inactive.

Exemptions

Reports of any ongoing investigation are closed. Arrest reports of people who are not charged within 30 days of arrest are also closed, however the disposition portion of the record may be open. 

Police can redact any portion of a record that would pose a "clear and present danger" to a victim, witness, undercover officer or other person, would jeopardize an investigation, or would disclose the identity of a confidential informant.

The following records are also exempt under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.021:

  • Any confidential or privileged communications between a body and its attorneys related to any legal actions or lawsuits involving a public governmental body, except for settlement agreements, unless a court orders them closed—if so, the amount paid in the settlement shall still be open
  • Records relating to the public body's leasing/purchasing/selling real estate
  • Student records and testing materials
  • Welfare cases
  • Records relating to preparation for negotiations with employee groups
  • Software codes
  • Records that have specifications for competitive bidding
  • Sealed bids and documents
  • Individual personnel records
  • Records related to scientific/technological developments
  • Municipal hotlines
  • Confidential communications with an auditor
  • Credit card numbers, virtual keys, and access codes
  • Social security numbers
  • Operational guidelines for responding or preventing any terrorism or other incidents that could endanger the public
  • Existing or proposed security systems
  • Records pertaining to a case where the charges were nolle pressed (meaning the prosecution declined to prosecute), dismissed, found not guilty or found not guilty due to mental disease or defect
In January 2011, a bill was introduced to close any personal information in records used for licensing foster homes. The bill will not take effect until voted on and signed into law.

How to Request Records in Missouri

Making the request

The public body must respond "as soon as possible" but no later than 3 days after receiving your request. If you're not granted immediate access, the public body must provide you a written statement explaining the delay. If you are denied access, they must give you a written statement explaining denial.

Payment

The public body may not charge you more than ten cents per page  for copies, if the copy is smaller than a 9 X 14 sheet of paper. In addition to this copying fee, under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.026 they can charge you the hourly rate of pay of clerical staff for the time they spend duplicating the records. If research time is needed, you may be charged for that.

If your request involves copies larger than 9 X 14 copies and/or involves tapes, disks, films, maps, graphs or digital records, you may also be charged for accessing these records, even if you don't make copies. The amount can't exceed the hourly rate of the staff. If the staff must copy disks, then you can be be charged the costs of disks.

The public body can request advance payment.

What Are Your Remedies in Missouri

You may file suit if you believe that your request was improperly denied.  If you can prove that a record was supposed to be open and you were denied access, then the public body must show that it was complying with the law or else you win your case.

If you can also show that the public body violated the open meetings law, the court must award you damages, up to $1,000. In calculating your award, the court must consider the size of the jurisdiction, the seriousness of the offense, and whether the body has previously violated the law. The court may give you costs and attorney fees. The statute doesn't define a "knowing" violation, but in Wright v. City of Salisbury, No. 2:07CV00056 AGF, 2010 WL2947709 (E.D.Mo. 2010), the federal district court in the Eastern District of Missouri, applying state law, held that a "knowing" violation referred to evidence that the public body knew that they were violating the law.

If you can show that the body purposely violated the law, the court must give you damages, up to $5,000, as well as court costs and attorney fees. In calculating your award, the court must consider the size of the jurisdiction, the seriousness of the offense, and whether the body has previously violated the law. Again, the statute doesn't define "purposely", but  in Spradlin v. City of Fulton, 982 S.W.2d 255 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998), the Missouri Court of Appeals held that a purposeful violation is one that shows a conscious plan to violate the law.

You can also sue to open an otherwise lawfully closed law enforcement record. The court must weigh the public interest in opening the record with the harm to anyone involved in the incident in deciding whether to open it. You may have to bear the costs and attorney fees for both yourself and the law enforcement body if you do this, unless the court finds that the reason for withholding an investigative report was substantially unjustified in your specific circumstances. 

The courts also have the power to enforce public records and public meetings provisions through injunctions under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.030.

If you sue a public body for a closed record violation, make sure you do within one year pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.027.5(5).

 

Last updated on July 15th, 2011

   
 
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