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Paule v. Woodmore Local Schools

Court of Claims of Ohio

March 20, 2019

DENISE PAULE Requester
v.
WOODMORE LOCAL SCHOOLS Respondent

          Sent to S.C. Reporter 6/28/19

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Jeffery W. Clark Special Master

         {¶1} 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). These claims are determined using the standard of clear and convincing evidence. Hurt v. Liberty Twp., 2017-Ohio-7820, 97 N.E.3d 1153, ¶ 27-30 (5th Dist.). 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. 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. Glasgow v. Jones, 119 Ohio St.3d 391, 2008-Ohio-4788, 894 N.E.2d 686, 13.

         {¶2} On September 19, 2018, requester Denise Paule sent a letter to respondent Woodmore Local Schools making a public records request for, among other items:

4). Cell Phone call/text detail log of Kevin Ball related to Woodmore Local School District Business from June 9, 2017 through June 25, 2017.
5). Cell Phone call/text detail log relating to any Woodmore Local Schools business for the following listed individuals for the dates of June 9, 2017 through June 25, 2017: Sean Rizor, Cara Brown, Sam Preston, Gary Haas.

(Complaint Exh. A, p. 1.) On October 8, 2018, Woodmore Treasurer Dan Russomanno sent a response stating, in pertinent part:

For 4 and 5. If you are asking for the call/text logs, your request for copies of the personal cell phone call/text log detail of the employees listed in the request is denied because your request does not pertain to "public records" as defined by ORC 149.011(G). These personal cell phone call/text log details are not created by the school district, they are not received by the school district, and they do not come under the jurisdiction of the school district. Also, they do not document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the school district. International Union, United Auto., Aerospace & Agric. Implement Workers v. Voinovich, 100 Ohio App.3d 372, 378 (10th Dist. 1995).

(Id. at 2.) These requests are limited to cell phone call/text detail logs, and do not request copies of any text messages.

         {¶3} On October 16, 2018, Paule filed a complaint under R.C. 2743.75 alleging denial of access to public records in violation of R.C. 149.43(B). In mediation, the parties resolved Paule's September 19, 2018 requests, other than Nos. 4 and 5. (Dec. 19, 2018 Order.) On December 31, 2018, Woodmore filed its answer and motion to dismiss (Response). On January 18, 2019, Woodmore filed a supplemental response. On February 11, 2019, Paule filed a reply. On March 8, 2019, Woodmore filed a second supplemental response.

         Motion to Dismiss

         {¶4} Woodmore asserts that the requested cell phone call/text logs are not "records" of Woodmore, and Paule therefore fails to state a claim for violation of the Public Records Act. In construing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(6), the court must presume that all factual allegations of the complaint are true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mitchell v. Lawson Milk Co., 40 Ohio St.3d 190, 192, 532 N.E.2d 753 (1988). Then, before the court may dismiss the complaint, it must appear beyond doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to recovery. O'Brien v. Univ. Community Tenants Union, Inc., 42 Ohio St.2d 242, 245, 327 N.E.2d 753 (1975).

          {¶5} The complaint alleges that the named administrators and board members of respondent conducted district business by calls and texts using personal cell phones, and that the district "pays monthly for Administration cell phone use for school business." (Complaint at 3.) Paule asserts that the cell phone call/text logs of district business communication are records of and possessed by Woodmore or, alternatively, come under the jurisdiction of the office pursuant to quasi-agency. (Id. at 4-5.) In rejecting Paule's request, Woodmore did not deny the existence of provider call/text logs, but denied that they met the definition of "records." (Id. at Exh. A, p. 2.) I find that the complaint sufficiently states a claim for relief for denial of specifically described putative records. The defense that the documents were non-records is not conclusively shown on the face of the complaint and attachments. I therefore recommend that that the motion to dismiss be denied, and the matter determined on the merits.

         {¶6} I note that requester has submitted a great deal of information and argument that is irrelevant and immaterial to this action. Violations of the Open Meetings Act, harassment, and other legal and personal grievances alleged in the pleadings are not actionable under R.C. 2743.75. The special master will disregard all ...


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