City of Pepper Pike v. Doe

Decision Date10 June 1981
Docket NumberNo. 80-1243,80-1243
Citation20 O.O.3d 334,421 N.E.2d 1303,66 Ohio St.2d 374
Parties, 20 O.O.3d 334 CITY OF PEPPER PIKE, Appellee, v. DOE, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. The trial courts in Ohio have jurisdiction to order expungement and sealing of records in a criminal case where the charges are dismissed with prejudice prior to trial by the party initiating the proceedings.

2. The trial courts have authority to order expungement where such unusual and exceptional circumstances make it appropriate to exercise jurisdiction over the matter. When exercising this power, the court should use a balancing test which weighs the privacy interest of the defendant against the government's legitimate need to maintain records of criminal proceedings.

In 1978, the Pepper Pike prosecutor signed and filed in the Shaker Heights Municipal Court a complaint charging defendant-appellant, Jane Doe, 1 with a violation of Section 537.03(A) of the Codified Ordinances of the city of Pepper Pike, to wit, knowingly causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the complaining witness. The complaining witness was the wife of the defendant's ex-husband. Both the complaining witness and her husband filed statements alleging Jane Doe assaulted the complainant. As a result of these statements, and the report of an investigating officer, the complaint was filed, a warrant issued, and the defendant taken to the police station house, where she was arrested, fingerprinted, and photographed. Defendant's police file also contained the arrest record, witness' statements, and report of the investigating officer.

After the defendant's arrest, she filed a civil complaint in common pleas court against her former husband and his wife, claiming damages for defamation by the statements given to the Pepper Pike police department resulting in the criminal charge described above.

On the date set for defendant's trial on the criminal charge, the parties to the case agreed to dismiss with prejudice the assault charge, in exchange for defendant dismissing the civil action in common pleas court, and the signature of a waiver of any possible action defendant might have against the city of Pepper Pike or any of its employees. Accordingly, the criminal charge against defendant was dismissed on February 8, 1979.

On February 13, 1979, defendant filed a motion for expungement of the arrest record, following the return to her, upon request, of the fingerprints, photographs and other identifying descriptions held by the police department. 2 In the motion for expungement, defendant sought "an order directing the Police Department of Pepper Pike, Ohio, and the Prosecuting Attorney for Pepper Pipe (sic ), Ohio, to remove from their files and destroy all records, originals and copies in their possession or under their control relating to the petitioner, * * * (Jane Doe), to wit: arrest records, complaints, warrants, witness statements, any and all other records of every nature and description, for an order directing the Clerk of this Court to seal the records in this case," and to inform defendant within ten days of compliance with the order.

The Municipal Court denied the motion for expungement, asserting that it had no jurisdiction over the expungement request. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals, while concluding that the Municipal Court erred in determining it had no authority to grant an expungement request, affirmed because if found the trial court's error harmless. It predicated the harmlessness of the error upon the absence of unusual and exceptional circumstances calling for the exercise of the equitable powers of the court to grant expungement.

This cause is now before this court pursuant to allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Walter, Haverfield, Buescher & Chockley, Charles T. Riehl, Victor J. Leo and Robert L. Musser, Director of Law, Cleveland, for appellee.

Fink, Greene & Hennenberg, Michael C. Hennenberg and Janet R. Burnside, Cleveland, for appellant.


This case raises the question of whether a defendant charged with but not convicted of a criminal offense has a right to a judicial remedy which orders expungement of her criminal record. Although novel for this court, the question of expungement and sealing of records has been raised in Ohio's lower courts and addressed by other jurisdictions. 3

In Ohio, convicted first offenders may seek expungement and sealing of their criminal records under the authority of R.C. 2953.32. 4 But, even absent statutory authorization, trial courts in unusual and exceptional circumstances expunge criminal records out of a concern for the preservation of the privacy interest. State v. Drewlo (Cuyahoga Co. App., April 17, 1980), case No. 40543, unreported; State, ex rel. Mavity v. Tyndall (1946), 224 Ind. 364, 66 N.E.2d 755. Some courts order expungement and sealing of records in "appropriate circumstances" out of concern for due process rights. Commonwealth v. Malone (1976), 244 Pa.Super. 62, 366 A.2d 584. In all such jurisdictions, however, even individuals who have never been convicted are not entitled to expungement of their arrest records as a matter of course. United States v. Linn (C.A.10, 1975), 513 F.2d 925.

In this case, the appellant was criminally charged with assault as a result of a domestic dispute. It is clear from the context and history of the matter that appellant's former husband and his current wife used the courts as a vindictive tool to harass appellant. The criminal charge and dismissal with prejudice were such unusual and exceptional circumstances as to make appropriate the exercise of the trial court's jurisdiction to expunge and seal all records in the case. The basis for such expungement, in our view, is the constitutional right to privacy. See Roe v. Wade (1973), 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147; Wisconsin v. Constantineau (1971), 400 U.S. 433, 91 S.Ct. 507, 27 L.Ed.2d 515; Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), 381 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 14 L.Ed.2d 510.

In holding a right to expungement and sealing of all records in this case, we follow other jurisdictions which recognize the power to grant this judicial remedy. When exercising these powers, the trial court should use a balancing test, which weighs the interest of the accused in his good name and right to be free from unwarranted punishment against the legitimate need of government to maintain records. Where there is no compelling state interest or reason to retain the judicial and police records, such as where they arise from a domestic quarrel and constitute vindictive use of our courts, the accused is entitled to this remedy. There can be no compelling state interest or reason to maintain the records of the criminal proceedings against defendants like appellant here, a school teacher with a previously unblemished reputation in her community.

Again, this is the exceptional case, and should not be construed to be a carte blanche for every defendant acquitted of criminal charges in Ohio courts. Typically, the public interest in retaining records of criminal proceedings, and making them available for legitimate purposes, outweighs any privacy interest the defendant may assert. Chase v. King (1979), 267 Pa.Super. 498, 406 A.2d 1388.

Finally, we must address the inherent lack of precision in the term "expungement." For the sake of clarity and uniformity, this remedy should follow R.C. 2953.32(C) and (F), which delineate the scope of expungement of...

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106 cases
  • State v. Radcliff
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • October 11, 2012
    ...of justice.” (Amicus' brief, 3.) {¶ 11} The seminal case defendant cites to support the trial court's decision is Pepper Pike v. Doe, 66 Ohio St.2d 374, 421 N.E.2d 1303 (1981), stating a court may order a record of conviction sealed “where such unusual and exceptional circumstances make it ......
  • State v. Radcliff
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    • January 28, 2015
    ...of the statute. The state also argued that the court lacked the inherent authority to seal the record under Pepper Pike v. Doe, 66 Ohio St.2d 374, 421 N.E.2d 1303 (1981).{¶ 7} After conducting a hearing, the trial court granted Radcliff's application to seal. In its resulting order, the tri......
  • State v. Boykin
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    • Ohio Supreme Court
    • October 22, 2013
    ...the effect of erasing the conviction itself.” The municipal court then employed the balancing test set forth in Pepper Pike v. Doe, 66 Ohio St.2d 374, 421 N.E.2d 1303 (1981), and determined that “the equities do not weigh in favor of the Defendant.” {¶ 9} Boykin appealed the decisions to th......
  • State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Winkler
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    • September 13, 2002 order expungement and to seal records of a criminal case is "the constitutional right to privacy." Pepper Pike v. Doe (1981), 66 Ohio St.2d 374, 377, 20 O.O.3d 334, 421 N.E.2d 1303. The legislative purpose of R.C. 2953.52 is to spare the applicant the economic, social, and legal conseque......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Ancillary Enforcement Jurisdiction: the Misinterpretation of Kokkonen and Expungement Petitions
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory Law Journal No. 69-6, 2020
    • Invalid date
    ...criminal records is the right to privacy).131. Schussheim, 998 N.E.2d at 449-50.132. Id. at 449 (quoting City of Piper Pike v. Doe, 421 N.E.2d 1303, 1306 (Ohio 1981), overruled on other grounds by State v. Radcliff, 28 N.E.3d 69 (Ohio 2015)). A similar balancing test was adopted in Davidson......
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    • United States
    • Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice No. 21-1, February 2005
    • February 1, 2005
    ...276-291. California Lab. Code Ann. § 432.7 (West 2004). Carter v. Gallagher, 452 F.2d 315 (8th Cir. 1971). City of Pepper Pike v. Doe, 421 N.E.2d 1303 (Ohio Civil Rights Act, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 (1964). Clark, L. D. (2004). A civil rights task: Removing barriers to employment of ex-......

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