Dissell v. City of Cleveland, 011119 OHCOC, 2017-00855PQ

Docket Nº:2017-00855PQ
Party Name:RACHEL L. DISSELL Requester v. CITY OF CLEVELAND, Respondent
Case Date:January 11, 2019
Court:Court of Claims of Ohio





No. 2017-00855PQ

Court of Claims of Ohio

January 11, 2019

Sent to S.C. Reporter 1/11/19



{¶1} Ohio's Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43, provides a remedy for production of records under R.C. 2743.75 if the court of claims determines that a public office has denied access to public records in violation of R.C. 149.43(B). The policy underlying the Act is that "open government serves the public interest and our democratic system." State ex rel. Dann v. Taft, 109 Ohio St.3d 364, 2006-Ohio-1825, 848 N.E.2d 472, ¶ 20. Therefore, the Act is construed liberally in favor of broad access, and any doubt is resolved in favor of disclosure of public records. State ex rel. Glasgow v. Jones, 119 Ohio St.3d 391, 2008-Ohio-4788, 894 N.E.2d 686, ¶ 13.

{¶2} On June 26, 2017, requester Rachel Dissell, a reporter for The Plain Dealer, sent respondent City of Cleveland an email containing the following public records request: For Jan 1, 2016 - Dec. 31, 2016 and for Jan. 1, 2017 through June 1, 2017 the following electronically collected EMS and Cleveland Division of Fire information:

CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) records for calls where Cleveland EMS and/or Cleveland Fire Department units were dispatched for opioid overdose calls, including heroin, synthetic opioids, fentanyl, carfentanil or opioid mixtures that include marijuana or [sic]

(Complaint at 3.) On August 9, 2017, Cleveland Public Records sent a response stating: In response to your public records request, there are no responsive records because the City generally cannot determine whether an incoming 911 emergency call is an opioid-related call, a prerequisite to providing the requested CAD reports.

Id. The same day, Dissell amended her request as follows: For Jan 1, 2016 - Dec. 31, 2016 and for Jan. 1, 2017 through August 1, 2017 the following electronically collected EMS/Cleveland Division of Fire or Cleveland Police Department records:

Any records that document Cleveland EMS/ Cleveland Fire Department or Cleveland Police Department units dispatched or called to respond to opioid related overdose calls, including heroin, synthetic opioids, fentanyl, carfentanil or opioid mixtures that include marijuana or cocaine.

Please include the date and time of the call, location or address of the call, neighborhood (if collected), on scene disposition and/or non-patient identifying narrative.

(Id. at 2.)

{¶3} On October 19, 2017, Dissell filed a complaint under R.C. 2743.75 alleging denial of access to public records by the City in violation of R.C. 149.43(B). The case was referred to mediation, and on July 2, 2018, the court was notified that the case was not fully resolved and that mediation was terminated. The City did not file a timely response pursuant to R.C. 2743.75(E)(2). In response to an order of the special master, the City filed an answer stating in full: [Respondent * * * denies the allegations in the Complaint and further avers that all non-privileged documents have been produced. Respondent requests that this Complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

(Response). On August 10, 2018, Dissell filed a pleading describing the responsive computer-aided dispatch (CAD) records she believed the City had not produced. (Reply at 2.) On September 9 and October 12, 2018, respondent filed supplemental responses, and on October 15, 2018, Dissell filed a second reply. On November 13, 2018, the City filed responsive EMS/Fire CAD records under seal. On November 14, 2018, Dissell filed a copy of police event summaries received from the City during litigation. On November 30 and December 4, 2018, the City filed additional supplemental responses.

Suggestion of Mootness

{¶4} The City asserts that the claim as it pertains to police department records is moot "because the responsive documents have been produced." (Sept. 9, 2018 Supp. Response at 1, 3.) The City has provided Dissell with "Cleveland Police Department event summaries for suspected opioid calls" for September to December 2016, and January to August 2017. (Oct. 12, 2018 Supp. Response at 2; Second Reply, Attachment.) The City explains that it provided summaries only from September 2016 forward because the police department did not code suspected drug overdose calls in its CAD system prior to that date. (Id.) Dissell provides no evidence to the contrary.

{¶5} In an action to enforce R.C. 149.43(B), a public office may produce the requested records prior to the court's decision, and thereby render the claim for production moot. State ex rel. Striker v. Smith, 129 Ohio St.3d 168, 2011-Ohio-2878, 950 N.E.2d 952, ¶ 18-22. I find that Dissell's request for police dispatch records is moot to the extent that the responsive police department event summaries have been provided.

Modified Request

{¶6} No discussion or revision of a public records request during litigation relates back to the claim stated in the complaint. Even if parties agree to waive the mediation communication privilege, revision can serve only to establish admission, waiver, or mootness. As noted above, the records provided by the City during litigation did establish that a portion of the request is moot.

{¶7} However, there can be no cause of action based on failure of an office to provide records in accordance with R.C. 149.43(B) without the specific request having been made and denied prior to the complaint. See Strothers v. Norton, 131 Ohio St.3d 359, 2012-Ohio-1007, 965 N.E.2d 282, ¶ 14; State ex rel. Bardwell v. Ohio Atty. Gen., 181 Ohio App.3d 661, 2009-Ohio-1265, 910 N.E.2d 504, ¶ 5 (10th Dist.). Judicial resolution of the claim will thus be based on the August 9, 2017 public records request set forth in the complaint. (Reply at 2.)

Burdens of Proof

{¶8} In an action to enforce Ohio's Public Records Act (PRA), the burden is on the requester to prove an alleged violation. In mandamus enforcement actions, [a]lthough the PRA is accorded liberal construction in favor of access to public records, "the relator must still establish entitlement to the requested extraordinary relief by clear and convincing evidence."

State ex rel. Caster v. Columbus, 151 Ohio St.3d 425, 428, 2016-Ohio-8394, 89 N.E.3d 598, ¶ 15. Entitlement to relief under R.C. 2743.75 must likewise be established by clear and convincing evidence. Hurt v. Liberty Twp., 5th Dist. Delaware No. 17CAI050031, 2017-Ohio-7820, ¶ 27-30.

{¶9} However, when a public office asserts an exception to the Public Records Act, the burden of proving the exception rests...

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