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Concerned Citizens for Crystal City v. Crystal City, No. ED94135 (Mo. Ct. App.; Oct. 26, 2010)

Concerned Citizens for Crystal City v. Crystal City, No. ED94135 (Mo. Ct. App.; Oct. 26, 2010)

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Default judgment based on failure to obey discovery order (requiring message board operator to turn over contents of message boards, identities of posters, and private messages) reversed.
Default judgment based on failure to obey discovery order (requiring message board operator to turn over contents of message boards, identities of posters, and private messages) reversed.

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Published by: Venkat Balasubramani on Oct 29, 2010
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10/29/2010

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In the Missouri Court of AppealsEastern District
 
DIVISION THREECONCERNED CITIZENS FOR CRYSTAL ) No. ED94135CITY, et al., ))Appellants, )) Appeal from the Circuit Courtvs. ) of Jefferson County)CITY OF CRYSTAL CITY, MISSOURI, )et al., ) Hon. Benjamin F. Lewis)Respondents, ))and ))WINGS ENTERPRISES, INC., ))Intervenor/Respondent. ) FILED: October 26, 2010Concerned Citizens for Crystal City (“CCCC”), William McKenna, Jill Thomas,Sheryl Boss, and William Ginnever (collectively “Plaintiffs”) appeal from the judgmentof the trial court dismissing their lawsuit and all of their claims against the City of CrystalCity, Missouri (“Crystal City”) and a number of current and former Crystal City officials(Crystal City and its officials are collectively “Defendants”), as a sanction for discoveryviolations. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.In 1991, Pittsburgh Plate and Glass Company (“PPG”) shut down its factory inCrystal City, which it had operated there for many years. Since that time, Crystal Cityhas sought investors to redevelop the PPG real property. In 2006, Wings Enterprises, Inc.
 
(“Wings”) expressed some interest in the PPG property, and began discussions withofficials of Crystal City. In 2006 and 2007 officials of Crystal City were involved in anumber of meetings and discussions relating to Wings’ potential redevelopment of thePPG property as an iron smelter. At some point in time, the public became aware of theproposed redevelopment of the PPG property by Wings. Thomas Kerr, who ownedproperty near the PPG site, proposed his own development plan, and Kerr was involvedin the establishment of CCCC, a non-profit organization that opposed the Wingsproposal. Ginnever became the president of CCCC and Jill Thomas served as a vice-president thereof.Ginnever set up a website and electronic forum (“Forum”) for CCCC for peopleto discuss the Wings development, with no restrictions on who could post comments tothe Forum. However, posters were required to enter into a registration agreement withCCCC and to provide an email address, apparently to reduce the possibility of spam onthe Forum. The authors of posted remarks were anonymous to viewers of the Forum, butGinnever, as webmaster of the Forum, had the ability to know who posted each comment,apparently due to the source email addresses and IP addresses for each posted remark.There were many postings to the Forum following its establishment. Despite theopposition of CCCC, the City Council of Crystal City approved the necessarytransactions for the development of the PPG property by Wings.In November 2007, the Plaintiffs filed a seven count petition against Defendants.Counts I, II, III, and IV alleged that Crystal City violated the Sunshine Law on multipledifferent occasions in connection with the redevelopment of the PPG property. Count Valleged that two ordinances connected with the Wings proposal were improperly enacted.2
 
Count VI alleged that Crystal City violated the Missouri Industrial Expansion Law.Count VII alleged that Crystal City improperly hired an outside law firm to represent itsinterests related to the PPG property. Wings filed a motion to intervene as a partydefendant, which the trial court granted.Discovery proceeded, albeit slowly, with Plaintiffs, Defendants, and Wings allrequesting sizable amounts of a variety of information. In early 2009, Plaintiffs’ counseldeposed a number of current and former officials of Crystal City. On January 20, 2009,Wings filed a second request for production on Ginnever seeking a number of items,including: a complete copy, in native format, of all information in his possession that hadbeen posted on the domain http://www.clearpillar.com; a complete copy, in nativeformat, of all databases in his possession related to any forum that has appeared onhttp://www.clearpillar.com, with all copies to include, among other things, the IPaddresses related to each post, member names and email addresses, and the text of privatemessages on the database. Ginnever raised several objections in response. Plaintiffsfiled a motion to compel Wings’ production of documents pursuant to Plaintiff’s first andsecond requests for production of documents in late January 2009, followed by a motionfor leave to file their first amended petition in February 2009. Wings filed its ownmotion to compel complete answers to deposition questions, interrogatories, and requestsfor production. In April 2009, Plaintiffs’ filed their second motion for sanctions againstdefendants.On June 3, 2009, the trial court issued an order addressing several motions thatwere before it. It denied Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file its first amended petition. Itdenied Plaintiffs’ motion for an
in camera review
of privileged documents, and sustained3

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