976 N.E.2d 861 (Ohio 2012), 2012-0202, State ex rel. Zidonis v. Columbus State Community College

Docket Nº:2012-0202.
Citation:976 N.E.2d 861, 133 Ohio St.3d 122, 2012-Ohio-4228
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM.
Party Name:The STATE ex rel. ZIDONIS, Appellant, v. COLUMBUS STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Appellee.
Attorney:James J. Leo Law Office, and James J. Leo, for appellant. Michael DeWine, Attorney General, and Jeffery W. Clark and Holly LeClair, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.
Case Date:September 19, 2012
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio

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976 N.E.2d 861 (Ohio 2012)

133 Ohio St.3d 122, 2012-Ohio-4228

The STATE ex rel. ZIDONIS, Appellant,



No. 2012-0202.

Supreme Court of Ohio.

September 19, 2012

Submitted Aug. 21, 2012.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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James J. Leo Law Office, and James J. Leo, for appellant.

Michael DeWine, Attorney General, and Jeffery W. Clark and Holly LeClair, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.


{¶ 1} This is an appeal from a judgment denying the request of appellant, Sunday Zidonis, for a writ of mandamus to compel appellee, Columbus State Community College (" Columbus State" ), to provide access to its complaint files, litigation files, and certain e-mails and to award statutory damages and reasonable [133 Ohio St.3d 123] attorney fees. Because the court of appeals did not err in denying the requested extraordinary relief, we affirm the judgment.


{¶ 2} Zidonis was employed by Columbus State from 1998 until May 2010, when her employment was terminated. From late 2005 through early 2008, Zidonis was a member of the Columbus State records-retention committee. She attended meetings at which the records-retention policy was reviewed and discussed and offered input about records management in her work division. One of the committee's meeting agendas indicated that Zidonis would be gathering information for a taxonomy that would organize all inventories to make searching for records more efficient. From January 2007 to May 2010, Zidonis was the program coordinator for the academic-quality-improvement plan, which required her to develop effective

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communication methods and ensure that essential information and evidence were identified, stored, and communicated.

{¶ 3} After Zidonis's termination from employment with Columbus State, her counsel, who represented her in the appeal of her discharge in the State Personnel Board of Review, submitted multiple requests to Columbus State seeking access to various records under R.C. 149.43, the Public Records Act. Columbus State promptly provided access to nearly 400 pages of the requested records, including the personnel files of Zidonis and two other college employees. Zidonis also requested and received a copy of the college's records-retention schedule.

Request for Copies of E-Mails

{¶ 4} By letter dated June 30, 2010, Zidonis, through counsel, requested " [c]opies of e-mails sent between Sunday Zidonis and Deborah Coleman (i.e., those sent to Ms. Coleman from Ms. Zidonis, and those sent to Ms. Zidonis from Ms. Coleman)." By letter dated July 13, Columbus State, through its in-house counsel, Assistant Attorney General Jackie DeGenova, responded by specifying that the request was overly broad and that the college could not identify the specific records being requested. DeGenova invited Zidonis's counsel to contact her to assist in identifying the records being sought and to revise or clarify the request.

{¶ 5} Instead of replying to DeGenova as requested, Zidonis's counsel sent letters dated July 21 and August 9, 2010, to the vice president of human resources, asking him to describe " the nature by which staffs' electronic e-mails are stored at Columbus State and how they may be retrieved" so that a follow-up request could be made. On August 24, DeGenova sent Zidonis's counsel a letter reiterating that the request for copies of e-mails between Zidonis and Coleman was overly broad and that the college was unable to identify the records sought. [133 Ohio St.3d 124] DeGenova repeated her invitation to discuss the matter with Zidonis's counsel to assist in narrowing the request. He claims that he did call her, but the phone record he provided as evidence reflects a call to a phone number substantially different from the number DeGenova provided in her letter.

{¶ 6} On September 3, 2010, Zidonis's counsel sent DeGenova a letter in which he stated that after reviewing the Columbus State public-records retention policy, he assumed that " at some point, e-mails are printed off into paper form and then each printed e-mail is placed in the appropriate category within the [Columbus State] retention schedule."

{¶ 7} At a September 8, 2010 status conference in Zidonis's administrative appeal, DeGenova again advised Zidonis's counsel that the request for e-mails was overly broad and still needed to be revised to reasonably identify particular records. DeGenova informed Zidonis's attorney that the college retains, organizes, and accesses its records based on the content of the records and asked if he could narrow the request to more clearly identify the requested records by specifying the year or the subject matter of the e-mails. Zidonis's attorney replied that he would provide DeGenova with the requisite " names and dates" to narrow the scope of the e-mails he was seeking, but he did not do so.

{¶ 8} In mid-July 2010, i.e., around the same time that Columbus State first rejected Zidonis's request for e-mails between Zidonis and Coleman as overbroad, DeGenova discussed with the college's network administrator whether it was technically possible to search for all e-mails sent between two employees. The administrator said that there were no such means in the normal manner of organizing, maintaining, and accessing electronic records at

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the college and that programming a special search would take a substantial amount of time. At DeGenova's request, the network administrator proceeded to recover the pertinent e-mails from the college's disaster-recovery system back to July 2008. In August and September 2010, the administrator created a special file and program for DeGenova to review the e-mails to make potential redactions, and DeGenova proceeded with her review.

Request to Inspect Complaint and Litigation Files

{¶ 9} In his September 3, 2010 correspondence, Zidonis's counsel asked " to look at records IUC-HR-10-04 (complaint files), and IUC-LEG-20-01...

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