Missouri Supreme Court denies private investigator's appeals

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 | 2:38 p.m. CST; updated 9:06 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 7, 2012

COLUMBIA — The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed on Tuesday the Cole County 19th Judicial Circuit Court's decision to dismiss a Columbia man's claims that a statute violated the First Amendment and that he was separately denied constitutional rights.

In 2010, Ricky Gurley applied for a private investigator license with the Missouri Board of Private Investigator and Private Fire Investigator Examiners, an agency created in 2007 after the Missouri General Assembly decided the state should regulate the private investigation profession.

He was denied in April 2010 after he met with members of the board, according to the court decision. Gurley previously worked on a license he obtained in 2003 from the city of Columbia that was to expire in September 2010.

The board alleged he violated the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act by posting blog entries containing others' personal information that he obtained from Missouri driver records, though he was not formally charged, according to the decision.

Gurley was eventually granted the license, but he filed a lawsuit against the board on the grounds the statute was unconstitutional because it violated the free speech clauses of the U.S. and Missouri constitutions.

He did not argue his own free speech rights were infringed upon but that the statute was too broad and required other citizens to obtain licenses before engaging in all First Amendment-protected activities, including social media users who locate former classmates online.

Gurley also argued that his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment was violated. He claimed the board did not give him the opportunity to defend himself before denying his application, according to the decision.

The circuit court dismissed both claims as moot in 2010. Gurley appealed the decision, but the Missouri Supreme Court sided with the circuit court Tuesday.

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