Barnes v. City of Cleveland Div. of Records Admin., 109682

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtANITA LASTER MAYS, P.J.
Citation167 N.E.3d 51
Parties Reginald E. BARNES, Sr., Relator, v. City of CLEVELAND DIVISION OF RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 109682,109682
Decision Date22 January 2021

167 N.E.3d 51

Reginald E. BARNES, Sr., Relator,

No. 109682

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga County.

DATED: January 22, 2021

Reginald E. Barnes, Sr., pro se.

Barbara A. Langhenry, Cleveland Director of Law, and Michael J. Pike, Assistant Director of Law, for respondent.



167 N.E.3d 54

{¶ 1} Relator, Reginald E. Barnes Sr., seeks a writ of mandamus directing respondent, the city of Cleveland Division of Records Administration (the city), to produce records pursuant to public records requests made by Barnes. Barnes also seeks an award of statutory damages and costs. We grant the city's motion for summary judgment, deny Barnes's motion for summary judgment, deny the writ of mandamus as moot, and deny Barnes's request for an award of statutory damages and costs in this action.

I. Procedural and Factual History

{¶ 2} On April 13, 2020, Barnes filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus together with a motion for a temporary restraining order and injunction that sought to prohibit respondent from destroying any responsive records that may still exist. In the complaint, Barnes alleged that on or about January 28, 2020, he made a written public records request to the city using an unspecified means. The request asked for two things: (1) to inspect records related to "[a]ll vehicles impounded by the City whether due to immobilization, forfeiture, or seizure, and stored at the city operated impound lot or stored at a third-party provider — only including the month of September 2016[,]" and (2) the names of each third-party tow company used by the city during that time. Barnes alleged that the city promptly acknowledged his request and provided him with a tracking number where he could monitor his request online.

{¶ 3} On January 31, 2020, Barnes states the city denied his first request because the city does not keep separate records with the information requested. The city also indicated this request was vague and overbroad. The city did provide a response to the second request by providing a list of names of each third-party tow company the city worked with in September 2016.1

{¶ 4} Barnes alleges that he revised his first request to attempt to make a complying request and also sought direction from the city on how to make a proper request. The request generally restated Barnes's first request: "Please provide all records with identifying information of all motor vehicles impounded by the City during the month of September 2016. This excludes protected personal identifiers." However, the request went on:

So that I can make a satisfying request, what do you mean by "separate record," and then by what method or manor [sic] does the City maintains [sic] the records in relation with impounded vehicles? * * * what are the existing records the City compiles and maintains on impounded motor vehicles in accordance with Cleveland Ordinances Chapter 405 Impounding, and also specifically, Cleveland Codified Ordinance 495.67 Pound Records?

{¶ 5} The city responded to Barnes's second communication by specifying what

167 N.E.3d 55

records existed and in what form they were maintained so that Barnes could make a complying request.2 The city also indicated that, pursuant to its records retention schedule, the records were set for destruction. Barnes did not further attempt to make a complying request after receiving the city's communication. Instead, Barnes filed the instant complaint seeking access to records, statutory damages, and costs. The city filed an answer on August 5, 2020, and a dispositive motion schedule was set by the court. The city then filed a motion for summary judgment on September 17, 2020, and supplemental exhibits on September 21, 2020. The city indicated that Barnes was free to inspect the records he sought, which were being stored at the city's law department. Through a motion to quash discovery filed by the city on September 29, 2020, and a brief in opposition filed by Barnes, Barnes indicated to this court that additional time was needed to conduct discovery. So, on October 2, 2020, a discovery schedule was set, followed by dates for the filing of dispositive motions together with any evidence permitted by Civ.R. 56(C). The order also set a timeframe within which Barnes could inspect the records. Despite the fact that the discovery order gave the parties until October 30, 2020, to complete discovery and dispositive motions were not due until November 6, 2020, Barnes filed a motion for summary judgment on October 5, 2020. The court held the motion in abeyance pending discovery. Both parties filed notices that they intended to rely on their previously filed motions for summary judgment, supplemented by additional arguments and evidence.3 Briefs in opposition were filed by both parties on November 20, 2020.

II. Law and Analysis

{¶ 6} The case is before this court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Civ.R. 56(C) provides:

Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, written admissions, affidavits, transcripts of evidence, and written stipulations of fact, if any, timely filed in the action, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. No evidence or stipulation may be considered except as stated in this rule. A summary judgment shall not be rendered unless it appears from the evidence or stipulation, and only from the evidence or stipulation, that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse to the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that party being entitled to have the evidence or stipulation construed most strongly in the party's favor.

Under Civ.R. 56, summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue exists as to any material fact. When viewing the evidence most strongly in favor of the nonmoving party, a court will grant summary judgment when reasonable minds can reach only one conclusion that is adverse to the nonmoving party, entitling the moving party to judgment as a matter of law.

167 N.E.3d 56

A. Standard for Mandamus in a Public Records Action

{¶ 7} R.C. 149.43, Ohio's Public Records Act, imposes a responsibility on public offices and officials throughout Ohio to ensure the public has access to public records maintained by those entities. " ‘Public record’ means records kept by any public office." R.C. 149.43(A)(1). Unless an exception to disclosure enumerated in the Act applies, records maintained by a public office are open and available for inspection. After all, these are the people's records. Public offices, including the city and its divisions, have a responsibility to maintain a system of records that ensures easy public access. R.C. 149.43(B)(2). Its failure to do so is not grounds for denying a proper records request. State ex rel. Fox v. Cuyahoga Cty. Hosp. Sys. , 39 Ohio St.3d 108, 111, 529 N.E.2d 443 (1988), quoting State ex rel. Beacon Journal Publishing Co. v. Andrews , 48 Ohio St.2d 283, 289, 358 N.E.2d 565 (1976).

{¶ 8} Where a public office or official has failed to provide records in a reasonable time, mandamus is one appropriate avenue of relief made available by R.C. 149.43(C)(1). State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Pike Cty. Coroner's Office , 153 Ohio St.3d 63, 2017-Ohio-8988, 101 N.E.3d 396, ¶ 15, citing State ex rel. Physicians Commt. for Responsible Medicine v. Ohio State Univ. Bd. of Trustees , 108 Ohio St.3d 288, 2006-Ohio-903, 843 N.E.2d 174, ¶ 6. The Public Records Act is also to be liberally construed so as to ensure broad access to records. Id.

{¶ 9} As with other mandamus actions, the relator has the burden of establishing that he or she has a clear legal right to the relief sought, and that the respondent has a clear legal duty to provide the requested relief. Here, that means that Barnes must show that he has a clear right to the records and the city has a clear legal duty to provide the records. McDougald v. Greene , 162 Ohio St.3d 250, 2020-Ohio-4268, 165 N.E.3d 261, ¶ 4, citing State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Sage , 142 Ohio St.3d 392, 2015-Ohio-974, 31 N.E.3d 616, ¶ 10. A public records mandamus action differs from other mandamus actions because whether there exists another adequate remedy at law is not considered. Welsh-Huggins v. Jefferson Cty. Prosecutor's Office , ––– Ohio St.3d ––––, 2020-Ohio-5371, ––– N.E.3d ––––, ¶ 24, quoting State ex rel. Caster v. Columbus , 151 Ohio St.3d 425, 2016-Ohio-8394, 89 N.E.3d 598, ¶ 15, quoting State ex rel. Data Trace Information Servs., L.L.C. v. Cuyahoga Cty. Fiscal Officer , 131 Ohio St.3d 255, 2012-Ohio-753, 963 N.E.2d 1288, ¶ 25.

B. Preliminary Matters

1. Injunctive Relief

{¶ 10} Along with the complaint, Barnes sought injunctive relief and a restraining order to preserve requested records after the city informed Barnes that the records, pursuant to the city's records retention schedule, were scheduled for destruction. However, this court...

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