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OHIO SB321 - Legislative Change for Public Records Disputes

7/13/2016Paul-Michael La Fayette Isaac Wiles, LLC


Recently, the Ohio General Assembly passed SB321 wherein the Ohio General Assembly
created an alternate jurisdiction in the Ohio Court of Claims to hear complaints concerning
denials of access to public records. The purpose of the statutory change was to provide greater
access to the public for resolving public records disputes and to provide for an expeditious and
economical procedure to resolve such disputes. While the new statute, R.C. 2743.75, provides
that the Court of Claims shall be the sole and exclusive authority in the State that adjudicates or
resolves complaints based on alleged violations of public records law, it is not a substitute for
an action in mandamus which still may be brought in common pleas court, court of appeals or
Ohio Supreme Court.
Under R.C. 2743.75, an individual who claims a denial of access to public records may file a
complaint in the Court of Claims or in the court of common pleas for the county in which the
public entity is located. If the cause of action is filed in the Common Pleas Court, it is then
transmitted to the Court of Claims for further adjudication. There is a $25.00 filing fee which
may be recovered by a prevailing complainant.
Upon the filing of a complaint for a public records violation, the Clerk of the Court of Claims
immediately assigns the matter to a special master and the case is stayed pending mediation. If
mediation is unsuccessful, the public entity is permitted ten (10) days to file an answer or move
to dismiss the complaint. No other pleadings are authorized. Furthermore, the procedure does not
permit discovery except upon order of the special master. If such additional information is
deemed necessary or appropriate the parties are permitted to attach affidavits to the pleadings
and, presumptively, documentation authenticated by the affidavit. Once the answer or motion to
dismiss is filed, the matter is then submitted to the special master for a report and
recommendation which must be issued within seven (7) days.
Within seven (7) days, after the special master issues a report and recommendation, the parties
may file objections. The Court of Claims must issue a final order within seven (7) days of the
objections. The Court may accept, reject or modify the recommendations of the special master.
Consistent with Ohio law, the parties may appeal a final order; however, they may only do so if
that party had previously filed objections to the special masters report and recommendations.
The appeal is filed with the court of appeals in the judicial district where the public office is
located.
If the court of appeals finds that a public records violation occurred, the aggrieved party shall be
entitled to recover the $25 filing fee from the public office. The court of appeals may only award

attorney fees if it determines that the appeal was obviously filed with the intent to either, delay
compliance with the courts order without reasonable cause or, to unduly harass the aggrieved
person. Notably, no discovery may be conducted on the issue of whether or not the public office
or person responsible for the public records filed the appeal with the intent to either delay
compliance or unduly harass the aggrieved party.