Ending a two-year court case over who owns city cemetery records, Judge David Hoven issued a final judgment that the records are the property of the city of Pacific.
In the Feb. 23 judgment, the court accepted and enacted the mitigated agreement reached by the parties in the case.
Resident Neil Brennan filed the lawsuit in December 2015 against the city of Pacific, City Clerk Kim Barfield and former Sexton Alan Bruns, demanding that cemetery records in Bruns’ possession be surrendered to the city.
Brennan noted in the suit that the Pacific Board of Aldermen in Oct. 21, 2014, had voted to transfer ownership of the original records to Bruns, which he said was a violation of state law. Cities are required to maintain public records.
Brennan’s petition asked for punitive damages against Bruns for failure to deliver the records and damages against the city for transferring the records to Bruns.
In the ruling, the court denied all requests for penalties. The ruling also said each of the parties would pay their own legal fees.
The declaratory judgment ordered that all original cemetery records relating to the Pacific cemeteries are public records as defined by state law.
The court judgment went beyond the handwritten ledgers that the Bruns family, acting as sextons, had maintained and Alan Bruns had delivered to the court.
The final judgment declared that all cemetery records, including but not limited to any record, ledger, journal, document, book, paper, photograph, interment record, notes, map, deed, plat, sound recording or other material, including the four ledgers Bruns turned over to the court, are public records.
Therefore ownership, care and custody of the records are now and shall always be, considered part of the official property and records of the city of Pacific.
The city is ordered to maintain possession, custody, control and ownership of the records. The city cannot dispose of any cemetery records in any way.
The court entered a permanent injunction prohibiting Bruns from ever owning, or claiming ownership interest, in any cemetery records related to the Pacific cemeteries.
The records housed in the Franklin County Court are to be turned over to Barfield, who shall be responsible for their preservation, care, custody and control.
In the court’s judgment, as Bruns family members served as city sextons for 100 years as appointed city officers, all records and documents created by the sexton were governed by Missouri Sunshine Law.
Bruns and any other sextons will continue to have access to and the use of the records. All future sextons retain the right to use the cemetery records in their official capacity to operate and maintain the Pacific cemeteries.
Mayor Jeff Palmore said he was pleased by the ruling.
“I have said all along that all original cemetery records, no matter who created them, were the property of the city,” Palmore said. “The court ruling justified my opinion.”
The mayor restated his previous claim that the four ledgers in the possession of the court did not constitute all the original records that are missing.
“All the original records have not been returned to the city and I intend to prove that,” he said.