Appeals court dismisses challenge related to DOC document request

By Carrie Salls | Apr 15, 2017

KANSAS CITY – The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District dismissed a challenge related to a Sunshine Law document request after the Circuit Court of Cole County ruled the identities of pharmacists who supply the state lethal injection drugs are not protected and ordered a stay.

According to the appeal opinion, the plaintiffs, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation and Christopher S. McDaniel, as well as Joan Bray and the Guardian News and Media, asked the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide records that “could potentially identify various individuals designated by the director of the DOC as execution team members.”

However, the DOC allegedly withheld some of the requested documents, arguing that providing them would violate laws designed to protect information and identities.

The Circuit Court of Cole County entered orders in July 2015, stating that “Section 546.720.2 RSMo. does not protect the identities of the pharmacists who supply the DOC with lethal injection drugs because they do not ‘directly administer’ lethal injection drugs,” according to the appeals court ruling.

The Cole County court scheduled an evidentiary hearing and subsequently ruled that the DOC did not need to produce any information dealing with the identities of the pharmacists until all appeal proceedings were final.

After the DOC filed a court-ordered privilege log, and the plaintiffs filed objections to exclusion of one set of requested documents, a DOC official was ordered to revise the log to include the excluded information.

In its May 2016 final judgment, the trial court confirmed its previous finding that the pharmacists’ identities were not protected by law. The court also kept the stay pending appeal in place.

On appeal, the plaintiffs claimed that the trial court should have ordered the DOC to produce a non-stayed portion of the documents. Specifically, the plaintiffs said only the documents listed on the privilege log were subject to the stay.

“We found the trial court’s ruling to be in contravention of the legislature’s intent to ‘protect the identities of individuals essential to the execution process so that the DOC may effectively carry out its statutory duty of performing lawful executions,’” the appeals court said in its opinion.

As a result, the appeals court said the pharmacists were “appropriately named as members of the execution team by the director of the DOC … and thus their identities, including any portion of a record or a complete record that could identify them, were protected from disclosure.”

The appeals court said the plaintiffs’ request for the production of non-stayed documents is moot because those documents could potentially lead to the identification of the protected pharmacists.

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Missouri Court of Appeals Western District Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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