Mo. Dept. of Social Services sued for alleged Sunshine Law violations

Mo. Dept. of Social Services sued for alleged Sunshine Law violations

A software program company that productively sued the state and was awarded $23 million very last yr has filed a new lawsuit towards Missouri’s Division of Social Expert services, alleging the company “knowingly and purposefully” violated open up data legislation.

In accordance to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cole County, Florida-dependent HHS Technological know-how submitted a request for records to the social services office in late April 2022. The department acknowledged receiving the ask for in Could and mentioned responsive data “may be” available in July. 

The business claims it did not hear again from DSS, inspite of recurring queries, right until past thirty day period, when after 10 months the state formally denied the ask for and refused to flip around records.

The state reported the paperwork were being exempt from the Sunshine Regulation mainly because they were being relevant to ongoing litigation. 

The lawsuit disputes that the documents tumble less than that exemption to Missouri’s open up documents rules and also can take challenge with the 10 months it took the state to supply its conclusion.

“The department’s professed will need to ‘research’ software of a slender, easy exception to the Sunshine Legislation are unable to justify its 10-thirty day period delay in responding to the request,” the lawsuit states.

Chuck Hatfield, the lawyer representing HHS Technological innovation, claimed in an interview with The Independent he hopes the courtroom clarifies that this sort of delays are not permissible.

“They will need to reply and remedy these requests, and I feel the court’s going to convey to them so,” Hatfield reported.

DSS did not instantly reply to a ask for for comment.

In 2016, a business termed EngagePoint sued Missouri for breach of agreement more than its operate on DSS’s situation management process.

HHS Technologies obtained EngagePoint’s promises for the lawsuit and was substituted as the plaintiff, and last yr a Cole County decide purchased the state to pay out the business $23 million.

The point out has appealed the ruling.

HHS Technology suggests in its lawsuit that the information ask for submitted late past April was for files similar to “how the department asked for and allotted taxpayer dollars…in its community solicitation process” for a system to modernize its situation management of community advantages, concerning 2013 to April 2022.

According to the lawsuit, the state’s February denial was dependent on its argument that the paperwork ended up exempt from Sunshine Law less than the litigation exception, which carves out data relevant to the nexus of ongoing litigation.

HHS’s lawsuit argues the litigation exception is adequately slender that it should not use since the data are “not inherently related to litigation” — at minimum not for the full time period the request lined.

Hatfield said the court will choose regardless of whether the information should be shut beneath that exemption. But a broader difficulty at play is the “flat-out failure to reply to the Sunshine ask for, when they explained to us they’d answer to us at the finish of July,” he reported.

The lawsuit asks the courtroom to enter judgment deeming the office to have violated Sunshine Law “by not giving well timed abide by-up or a authentic denial” of the request, as nicely as purchasing the office to make the documents and shell out an “appropriate civil penalty.”

The department has had troubles swiftly processing Sunshine requests in the earlier.

Media, which include The Impartial, have seen requests for public information from Office of Social Expert services languish for months, and staff members do not generally answer to inquiries right after the believed shipping and delivery day has passed. 

Missouri Impartial is aspect of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Unbiased maintains editorial independence. Get hold of Editor Jason Hancock for issues: in[email protected]. Follow Missouri Impartial on Facebook and Twitter.