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Records required kept by other law must be recreated under sunshine law

The Court of Appeals recently clarified that although the Missouri Sunshine law does not mandate the creation of records to respond to a request, a municipality or governmental body is required to reproduce discarded records that were previously in existence.   

In Weeks v. St. Louis County, Mo., et al (2023), the requestor sought information relating to vehicle stops made by several police departments. The request was initially submitted to the City of Webster Groves (the “City”), and then referred to the Regional Justice Information Services Commission (REJIS), because the City had contracted with REJIS to generate a report compiled from records of motor vehicle stops as required by Section 590.650 RSMo. The City denied the request on the grounds that the requested records had been discarded and REJIS would have to re-generate the reports. In holding that the City was required to provide the records, the Court explained that recreating the reports that were previously prepared, but had been destroyed, was not the same as creating a new, custom report that isn’t typically prepared. The request also sought information that was not required to be contained in the requested reports under Section 590.650 RSMo. The Court upheld the denial of this information, explaining that the Sunshine Law only requires access to existing records and does not require a city to generate a new record containing information compiled from existing records.   

Municipalities should keep in mind that while the creation of documents is not required under the Sunshine Law, under this case records may have to be reproduced or retrieved from a contractor if the municipality once had them. This seems to be an expansion of (or contradict) the Western District's holding in Sansone v. Governor of Missouri, 648 S.W.3d 13, 24 (Mo.App. W.D. 2022), where the Appeals Court held that "to constitute a public record subject to disclosure under the Sunshine Law, the record must have been maintained by the agency at the time of a records request."  

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