to S.C. Reporter 6/28/19
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JEFFERY W. CLARK, SPECIAL MASTER
On April 3, 2019, Kimberly Laurie, Court Administrator for
requester Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court
(Probate/Juvenile Court) made verbal and written public
records requests to respondent Geauga County Auditor's
Office (Auditor's Office). Laurie summarized the verbal
request and response in a letter to Auditor Chuck Walder
dated April 3, 2019:
On Monday, April 1, 2019, I emailed Kate Jacob requesting the
status of check number 1045158 for Robert Williams, and check
number 1045159 for Round 1 Ministry, which, according to New
World, were printed on Friday, March 29, 2019 (attached). * *
I then informed Ms. McMahan to consider this a public records
request to inspect the documents, pursuant to R.C.
149.43(B)(1) * * *
You * * * refused to allow us to inspect the requested
documents, and required that we make the records request in
If you do not comply with public records law by providing the
Court an opportunity to inspect these records as requested at
10:30 this morning by 2:30pm this afternoon, I will have no
choice but to file a formal public records complaint with the
Court of Claims pursuant to R.C. 2743.75.
(Complaint at 6-7.) Laurie states that when she returned at
2:30 p.m. she was advised that the documents weren't
ready. (Id. at 3.) On April 4, 2019, the
Probate/Juvenile Court filed this action under R.C. 2743.75
alleging denial of access to public records in violation of
R.C. 149.43(B). The Auditor's Office filed a motion to
dismiss (Response) on April 25, 2019.
In order to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted, it must appear beyond doubt
that the claimant can prove no set of facts warranting relief
after all factual allegations of the complaint are presumed
true and all reasonable inferences are made in claimant's
favor. State ex rel. Findlay Publ. Co. v. Schroeder,
76 Ohio St.3d 580, 581, 669 N.E.2d 835 (1996).
Among other grounds, the Auditor's Office moves to
dismiss because requester lacks the capacity to file this
action. (Response at 8.) The Court cites State ex rel.
Cleveland Municipal Court v. Cleveland City Council, 34
Ohio St.2d 120, 296 N.E.2d 544 (1973) for the Ohio rule that,
"Absent express statutory authority, a court can neither
sue nor be sued in its own right." Id. at 121.
There is no express statutory authority for a court to sue
under the Public Records Act. A public records action may only
be brought by "a person" allegedly aggrieved by the
failure of an office to comply with R.C. 149.43(B). R.C.
149.43(C)(1), (D)(1); R.C. 2743.75(D)(1). There is no
definition of "person" in the statutes governing
this action. However, "[a]s used in any statute, unless
another definition is provided in that statute or a related
statute: * * * (C) Person' includes an individual,
corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, and
association." R.C. 1.59. Notably, despite the named
relator's lack of capacity to sue in Cleveland
Municipal Court, the Supreme Court chose not to dismiss
the action, finding that "examination of the complaint
reveals that this action is proper in that it is brought by
the existing judges of the Municipal Court who are public
officers clothed with judicial authority." The Court did
not elaborate on this finding. The court's search failed
to locate any public records action brought solely by a court
or other office that is not sui juris. In State
ex rel. Office of Montgomery Cty. Pub. Defender v.
Siroki, 108 Ohio St.3d 207, 2006-Ohio-662, 842 N.E.2d
508, both the office and an employee were named relators.
Siroki did not challenge the capacity of the Public
Defender's Office to sue, and the action would have
survived in any event for the individual separately named as
The complaint in this case explains that the subject request
was made because "[t]he [Probate/Juvenile] Court has a
responsibility to ensure that its vendors receive appropriate
compensation due them, so" the administrator contacted
the Auditor's Office and, receiving no response,
personally visited the Auditor's Office along with the
court's fiscal compliance officer and a staff attorney.
(Complaint at 2.) The complaint speaks of "our"
attempts to access the records to resolve "a point of
contention between the County Auditor and the Court."
(Id. at 3.) In a letter to the Auditor, the
administrator represented that "the Court is seeking
confirmation from your office" regarding the checks, and
that "the Court has a right to be kept informed of the
status of such payments by your office. For this reason, a
public records request should not be necessary."
(Id. at 6.) The letter concluded with the demand:
"If you do not comply with public records law by
providing the Court an opportunity to inspect these records
as requested * * *, I will have no ...