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Neff v. Knapp

Court of Claims of Ohio

July 24, 2018

STACEY A. NEFF Requester
v.
LISA KNAPP Respondent

          DECISION

          PATRICK M. MCGRATH, JUDGE

         {¶1} Before the court are (1) a report and recommendation issued on May 2, 2018, by Special Master Jeffery W. Clark that concerns a complaint filed by requester Stacey A. Neff against respondent Lisa Knapp, (2) Neff s written response of May 11, 2018, to Special Master Clark's report and recommendation, and (3) Knapp's written objections of May 11, 2018, to Special Master Clark's report and recommendation.

         {¶2} For reasons set forth below, the court determines that (1) insofar as Neff's written response may be construed to be a written objection, Neff's objection should be overruled, (2) Knapp's written objections should be overruled, (3) the special master's report and recommendation should be modified, and (4) the special master's report and recommendation should be adopted, as modified by this decision.

         I. Background

         {¶3} On October 25, 2017, Stacey A. Neff sued Lisa Knapp, a trustee of Orange Township, alleging a denial of access to public records. In her complaint, Neff stated: "To date, I have received all items that I requested directly from the township. However, those items requested directly from Ms. Knapp have not been addressed: Lisa uses a personal email address so only she can send this information."

         {¶4} The court appointed attorney Jeffery W. Clark as a special master in the cause. The court also referred the case for mediation. After mediation failed to successfully resolve all disputed issues, the court returned the case to the docket of Special Master Clark. On May 2, 2018, Special Master Clark issued a report and recommendation. In the conclusion of the report and recommendation, Special Master Clark states:

Upon consideration of the pleadings and attachments, I recommend that the court DENY Neffs claim for production of records responsive to request No. 2 as moot. I further recommend that the court GRANT Neffs claim for production of the records responsive to request No. 3 submitted under seal. I further recommend that the court DENY Neffs request for production of records in request No. 5 as overly broad and ambiguous, and because respondent attests that no further responsive records exist. Neff has shown by clear and convincing evidence that respondent township violated the requirements of R.C. 149.43(B)(1), (B)(2), and (B)(3), and I recommend that the court find Neff is entitled to recover the amount of the filing fee and any other costs associated with the action that she has incurred. R.C. 2743.75(F)(3)(b).

(Report and Recommendation, 12.)

         {¶5} The court sent copies of the special master's report and recommendation by U.S. certified mail to Neff, Knapp's counsel, and Knapp. According to the court's records, Neff received the court's mailing on May 11, 2018, Knapp's counsel received the court's mailing on May 8, 2018, and Knapp received the court's mailing on May 4, 2018.

         {¶6} Thereafter, on May 11, 2018, Neff filed a response to the special master's report and recommendation and, that same day, Knapp, through counsel, filed written objections to the special master's report and recommendation. According to a "proof of service" accompanying Neffs response, Neff certified that the she served a copy of her response "by ordinary mail, postage pre-paid, as well as email" to Knapp and Knapp's counsel. And, according to a certificate of service accompanying Knapp's objections, Knapp's counsel forwarded a copy of Knapp's objections to Neff "via certified United States Mail, return receipt requested."

         {¶7} The court sent a copy of Neffs response to Knapp's counsel by U.S. certified mail and the court sent a copy of Knapp's objections to Neff by U.S. certified mail. According to the court's records, on May 18, 2018, Knapp's counsel received a copy of Neff s response that the court had forwarded to him. Four days later, on May 22, 2018, Knapp, through counsel, filed a response to Neffs filing, with Knapp's counsel certifying that he forwarded a copy of Knapp's response "via certified United States Mail, return receipt requested."

         II. Law and Analysis

         {¶8} R.C. 2743.75(F)(2) governs objections to a report and recommendation issued by a special master of this court relative to a public-records dispute. Pursuant to R.C. 2743.75(F)(2):

Either party may object to the report and recommendation within seven business days after receiving the report and recommendation by filing a written objection with the clerk and sending a copy to the other party by certified mail, return receipt requested. Any objection to the report and recommendation shall be specific and state with particularity all grounds for the objection. If neither party timely objects, the court of claims shall promptly issue a final order adopting the report and recommendation, unless it determines that there is an error of law or other defect evident on the face of the report and recommendation. If either party timely objects, the other party may file with the clerk a response within seven business days after receiving the objection and send a copy of the response to the objecting party by certified ...

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