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Neff v. Knapp

Court of Claims of Ohio

May 2, 2018

STACEY A. NEFF Requester
v.
LISA KNAPP Respondent

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JEFFERY W. CLARK SPECIAL MASTER

         {¶1} On September 15, 2017, requester Stacey Neff made public records requests to Joel Spitzer, Orange Township Fiscal Officer, for:

1) personnel file for Lisa Knapp
2) any records of requests from Lisa Knapp for financial records for Orange Township
3) any communications from or to Lisa Knapp related to forensic audit, including communications sent to state auditor or private auditing firm
4) attendance record for Lisa Knapp, including meeting type and date, since taking office as township trustee
5) any communications regarding legal implications of videotaping or recording of township meetings, internet posts
6) any information regarding the cost of insurance to protect Orange Township against lawsuits related to YouTube videos or trustee internet posts.

(Complaint at 2.) On September 18, 2017, Spitzer forwarded a second, slightly different version of these requests to respondent Lisa Knapp, Orange Township Trustee, noting in his cover email that

This is a courtesy notice that your personnel file will be produced as part of this office's duty to provide it. Rest assured, all information that requires redaction will be redacted.
Please see the remaining requested items below. Obviously, several items are under your control; thus, would need to be provided from you.
Please provide notice to this office once the items requested are prepared for delivery.

(Id. at 3.) Additional correspondence submitted by Neff is truncated and incomplete, but appears to show that Knapp had not provided copies of her personal email for response to any of the requests as of October 10, 2017. (Id. at 4-5.) Neff states she received records responsive to request Nos. 1, 4, and 6 "directly from the township." (Id. at 1.)

         {¶2} On October 25, 2017, Neff filed a complaint naming Knapp in her capacity as an Orange Township Trustee and alleging denial of access to public records in violation of R.C. 149.43(B). Neff alleges:

I have received all items that I requested directly from township. However, those items requested directly from Ms. Knapp have not been addressed.[1] Lisa uses a personal email address so only she can send this information. Please see highlighted items on next page.

(Complaint at 1.) The "highlighted items" are requests Nos. 2, 3, and 5. (Id. at 2.) On January 16, 2018, Neff and Knapp both filed additional material. Following unsuccessful mediation, Knapp submitted a February 5, 2018 motion to dismiss (Response). On March 9, 2018, legal counsel entered an appearance on behalf of Knapp and Orange Township, and on March 28, 2018, filed records responsive to requests Nos. 2 and 3 under seal. Respondent filed affidavits authenticating these records, and attesting that no records exist in response to request No. 5.

         {¶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). Claims under R.C. 2743.75 are determined using the standard of clear and convincing evidence. Hurt v. Liberty Twp., 5th Dist. Delaware No. 17CAI050031, 2017-Ohio-7820, ¶ 27-30.

         {¶4} The parties do not dispute that the requested documents constitute "records" within the meaning of 149.011(G), or that Orange Township is a respondent to this action as a public office. Neff named Knapp in her capacity as a trustee, and an action against a government official in her official capacity generally constitutes an action against the official's office. See State ex rel. Estate of Miles v. Piketon,121 Ohio St.3d 231, 2009-Ohio-786, 903 N.E.2d 311, ¶ 18-23. In conformity: 1) counsel has appeared on behalf of both Knapp and Orange Township (March 9, 2018 Notice of Appearance), 2) the action does not assert a liability to which only Knapp must respond, Id. at ΒΆ 22-23, and 3) Neffs request was directed to Fiscal Officer Spitzer, who is by statute the person responsible for the administrative records of ...


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