Guardian News & Media LLC, et al. v. Missouri Department of Corrections

About The Case

This case began when news organizations submitted requests under Missouri’s open records act, the Sunshine Law, seeking records documenting the source, quality, and composition of the state’s execution drugs. The Missouri Department of Corrections denied the request, citing the state’s Black Hood Law, which allows them to keep the identity of an “execution team” secret.

Information concerning execution drugs has long been readily available to the public. For years, states used a three-drug cocktail containing sodium thiopental produced by regulated manufacturers in Europe. But in 2011, those manufacturers stopped exporting the drug, and death penalty states, like Missouri and Arizona, were forced to seek alternate sources. Those sources have remained secret from the press and from the public. Without this information, the public is unable to exercise meaningful oversight of the executions carried out in its name.

The Guardian, AP and two Missouri newspapers filed suit in state court, challenging the Department’s blanket refusal. MFIA argued that the state’s Sunshine Law and the First Amendment guarantee access to the records, and that the Department exceeded its authority and misapplied the Black Hood Law.  In July 2015, the circuit court found Missouri Department of Corrections had violated the state open records law by withholding the requested information and by failing to timely respond to the Guardian’s request. On March 21, 2016, the circuit court granted MFIA’s motion for attorney’s fees.  The Department appealed the circuit court’s decision in July 2016.

Key Documents