Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
STATE EX REL. THE COMMUNITY PRESS, Relator-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,
THE CITY OF BLUE ASH, OHIO, Respondant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL NO.
Head & Ritchey, LLP, and John C. Greiner, for
Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP, Alex M. Triantafilou, Bryan E.
Pacheco and Andrew B. Cassady, for
In two assignments of error,
respondent-appellant/cross-appellee city of Blue Ash appeals
from the decision of the trial court finding that it had
improperly refused to provide information requested by
petitioner-appellee/cross-appellant The Community Press. The
Community Press, in one assignment of error, cross-appealed
the decision claiming that the trial court improperly
determined the amount of attorney fees awarded. We affirm the
trial court's judgment in part, reverse it in part, and
remand the cause for further proceedings.
Program Information Sought By Media
Judy Office was the owner of Inner Summit. Inner Summit
provides help to individuals seeking to improve their
management skills, professional coaching, and development.
She was contacted by the head of the human resources
department for Blue Ash and asked to conduct a
professional-development exercise called the "360
Feedback Project." The project was designed by Office to
allow senior managers with the city to receive anonymous
feedback from their peers and employees in areas of
managerial development considered important by the
International City/County Management Association, an
organization that supports professional city and county
managers and employees of local governments. There were to be
seven individuals who received assessments, and each of them
was reviewed by six to eight assessors. Office gave the
estimate of between 42-56 possible responders in total. The
employees were told that the surveys were confidential and
that no one from Blue Ash would see them.
Office sent the forms to be completed as an attachment to an
email that she sent to herself with a blind carbon copy to
the assessors of the individual assessment. Office did not
retain any of the emails sent to the assessors, but kept the
Word document that she used as the form letter that she
pasted into the email body.
forms were completed by the assessors and returned to Office.
Office then compiled the responses into a report that was
sent only to the individual being assessed. While most of the
reports were verbatim copies of the assessors' responses,
Office sometimes edited or summarized comments that gave
details that would have led to the individual being able to
identify an assessor.
No one other than the subject of the report was given a copy
of the report. Office said that they were for
"individual development." They were not placed in
personnel files or retained in any way by Blue Ash or any of
its departments. And no action was taken by Blue Ash due to
information contained in the reports.
In May 2016, a reporter for
respondent-appellee/cross-appellant The Community Press
learned of the assessments and submitted a public record
request for all documents relating to it. Blue Ash tendered a
copy of the proposal for the project (which was the only
document relating to the "contract" between Inner
Summit and Blue Ash, because the details of the process were
arranged orally afterward) but tendered no other documents.
The Community Press filed suit against Blue Ash seeking a
writ of mandamus to compel production of the reports, all the
documents that related to the administration of the surveys,
and the composition of the reports. The trial court found
that the documents were public records subject to disclosure.
The trial court also found that Blue Ash improperly deleted
at least one email relating to the 360 Feedback Project.
While the trial court found that Blue Ash had improperly
withheld the documents, it denied The Community Press's
request for attorney fees on that claim, finding that Blue
Ash's position was "not unreasonable given the case
law as it exists." The trial court awarded attorney fees
relating to the deletion of the email.
Mandamus Was Improperly Granted
In its first assignment of error, Blue Ash claims that the
trial court erred when it issued the writ of mandamus
compelling the city to produce the ...