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Robinson v. Village of Alexandria

Court of Claims of Ohio

March 16, 2018

STANLEY E. ROBINSON Requester
v.
VILLAGE OF ALEXANDRIA Respondent

          Sent to S.C. Reporter 4/23/18

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JEFFERY W. CLARK SPECIAL MASTER.

         {¶1} Between September 20, 2015 and September 17, 2017, requester Stanley Robinson submitted six letters to respondent Village of Alexandria (Village) containing a total of 400 public records requests. (Complaint at 49-114.) The Village responded that the September 20, 2015 request was voluminous and contained language that was ambiguous and overly broad, but would be reviewed and responded to in batches "as is logistically practical." (Id. at 60.) The complaint attached documentation that Robinson characterizes as the "village's attempted compliance records." (Id. at 115-135). The complaint lists the response status of 338 remaining requests as either "no response" or "not satisfied." (Id. at 4-48.)

         {¶2} On October 5, 2017, Robinson filed a complaint under R.C. 2743.75 alleging denial of timely access to public records in violation of R.C. 149.43(B). On October 10, 2017, the court referred the case to mediation. The parties engaged in four mediation sessions. On December 14, 2017, the Village filed a spreadsheet listing Robinson's requests and the Village's responses. On January 17, 2018, the mediator filed an entry stating:

         On January 12, 2018, a fourth mediation was conducted with the parties. During the mediation, the parties agreed to the following:

1) Respondent's Village Administrator will provide requester with documents in response to 18 currently outstanding requests on or before January 31, 2018;
2) Requester may visit the Village of Alexandria's office during normal business hours to inspect any remaining records that have not been provided from now until February 15, 2018;
3) On February 15, 2018, requester shall file with the court either a notice of voluntary dismissal, or a letter stating that the case has not been resolved through mediation. The case shall then proceed pursuant to R.C. 2743.75(E)(2) if necessary.

         (Emphasis sic.) On February 1, 2018, the Village filed

a comprehensive spreadsheet of Requester Stanley Robinson's revised public records requests with Respondent's responses to each request, marked and attached as Exhibit A. The additional documents were produced to Mr. Robinson on January 31, 2018. As previously discussed during the fourth mediation, Mr. Robinson may visit the Village of Alexandria's office during normal business hours to look for and inspect any remaining records.

         "Robinson came to the Village office once in January 2018, while [the mayor] was present, and spent less than one hour searching for documents." (Jasper Aff. at ¶ 5.) On February 12, 2018, Robinson filed a request that the case proceed to judicial determination of 37 "remaining unsatisfied requests." On February 26, 2018, the Village filed a response and motion to dismiss (Response) with the affidavits of Mayor Jim Jasper, Fiscal Officer Carol Gissinger, and Village Administrator Linda Propster.

         {¶3} Ohio's Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43, provides a remedy for production of records under R.C. 2743.75 if the court of claims determines that a public office has denied access to public records in violation of R.C. 149.43(B). The policy underlying the Act is that "open government serves the public interest and our democratic system." State ex rel. Dann v. Taft, 109 Ohio St.3d 364, 2006-Ohio-1825, 848 N.E.2d 472, ¶ 20. "[O]ne of the salutary purposes of the Public Records Law is to ensure accountability of government to those being governed." State ex rel. Strothers v. Wertheim, 80 Ohio St.3d 155, 158, 684 N.E.2d 1239 (1997). Therefore, the Act "is construed liberally in favor of broad access, and any doubt is resolved in favor of disclosure of public records." State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Hamilton Cty., 75 Ohio St.3d 374, 376, 662 N.E.2d 334 (1996). R.C. 149.43(B)(1) requires a public office to make copies of public records available to any person upon request, within a reasonable period of time.

         {¶4} R.C. 2743.75(F)(1) states that determination of public records claims shall be based on "the ordinary application of statutory law and case law." Case law regarding the alternative public records remedy under R.C. 149.43(C)(1)(b) provides that a relator must establish by "clear and convincing evidence" that he is entitled to relief. State ex rel. Miller v. Ohio State Hwy Patrol, 136 Ohio St.3d 350, 2013-Ohio-3720, 995 N.E.2d 1175, ¶ 14. Therefore, the merits of this claim shall be determined under the standard of clear and convincing evidence, i.e., "that measure or degree of proof which is more than a mere 'preponderance of the evidence, ' but not to the extent of such certainty as is required 'beyond a reasonable doubt' in criminal cases, and which will produce in the mind of the trier of facts a firm belief or conviction as to the facts sought to be established." Cross v. Ledford, 161 Ohio St. 469, 120 N.E.2d 118 (1954), paragraph three of the syllabus. Accord Hurt v. Liberty Twp., 5th Dist. Delaware No. 17 CAI 05 0031, 2017-Ohio-7820, ¶ 27-30.

         Motion ...


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