KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri is on the hook for nearly $138,000 in legal fees and expenses after an appeals court upheld a ruling that the state “knowingly and purposefully” violated the open records law.
The Missouri Court of Appeals agreed with a judge’s finding that the state ran afoul of the Sunshine Law when the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services sought to charge a genealogy research group nearly $1.5 million for state birth and death records dating to 1910, KCUR-FM reported.
The dispute stems from open records request in early 2016 by Reclaim the Records, a California-based nonprofit whose mission is to make public records available online for genealogical and historical researchers. Reclaim the Records and its founder, Brooke Schreier Ganz, sued, claiming that even a revised $5,174 fee for the records was excessive.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office declined comment.
Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia S. Joyce ruled that Missouri had violated the Sunshine Law and ordered it to pay $12,000 in penalties plus legal fees and expenses. In upholding her decision, the appeals court found that the attorneys’ fees sought by the group were not unreasonable.
The case will not only make a trove of records available to genealogy and history researchers, but also will enable medical researchers, epidemiologists, journalists and others to compare death records in 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States, with those of earlier years.
Reclaim the Records makes the data available free of charge on its website.
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