Morrison v. Law Dir. of Mount Vernon, 2022-00023PQ

CourtCourt of Claims of Ohio
Writing for the CourtJEFF CLARK, SPECIAL MASTER
Citation2022 Ohio 1617
PartiesJOSHUA DAVID MORRISON Requester v. LAW DIRECTOR OF THE CITY OF MOUNT VERNON Respondent
Decision Date19 April 2022
Docket Number2022-00023PQ

2022-Ohio-1617

JOSHUA DAVID MORRISON Requester
v.

LAW DIRECTOR OF THE CITY OF MOUNT VERNON Respondent

No. 2022-00023PQ

Court of Claims of Ohio

April 19, 2022


Sent to S.C. Reporter 5/13/22

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JEFF CLARK, SPECIAL MASTER

{¶1} The Ohio Public Records Act (PRA) requires copies of public records to be made available to any person upon request. The state policy underlying the PRA is that open government serves the public interest and our democratic system. State ex rel. Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc. v. Petro, 80 Ohio St.3d 261, 264, 685 N.E.2d 1223 (1997). To that end, the public records statute must be construed liberally in favor of broad access, with any doubt resolved in favor of disclosure of public records. State ex rel. Rogers v. Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 155 Ohio St.3d 545, 2018-Ohio-5111, 122 N.E.3d 1208, 6. This action is filed under R.C. 2743.75, which provides an expeditious and economical procedure to enforce the PRA in the Court of Claims.

{¶2} On July 21, 2021, requester Joshua Morrison made a public records request to the Clerk of Council of the City of Mount Vernon seeking

access to and a copy of All emails, communications and call logs of Mayor Matthew Starr, Safety Service Director Rick Dzik, City Council members, Bruce E. Hawkins, John Francis Mike Hillier, Julia Warga, Janis Seavolt, Amber Keener, Tammy Woods and Samantha Scoles and including former City Council member Tanner Salyers regarding the recent suspension and no confidence vote of the Safety Service Director. If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian's name and address

(Complaint at 3.) On September 17, 2021, respondent Law Director for Mount Vernon Robert Broeren, Jr., (Broeren) emailed Morrison a link to a Dropbox file containing

1

documents responsive to the request. (Reply at 6.) On September 27, 2021, Morrison sent an email advising Broeren that he believed the text message records of former councilmember Tanner Salyers had been omitted from this production. (Id. at 7.) Broeren responded that Salyers had "personally carried his cell phone records to my office and they were included in the produced records." (Id. at 9.)

{¶3} On January 11, 2022, Morrison filed a complaint under R.C. 2743.75 alleging denial of access to public records, specifically:

I didn't receive the text messages of Councilmember Tanner Salyers. The records and text messages from Salyers to Councilmember Mike Hillier were not fulfilled. Mr. Hillier's text messages were included, indicating that Salyers and Hillier had a conversation.

(Complaint at 1.) Following unsuccessful mediation, Broeren filed an answer (Response) on March 24, 2022. On April 4 and April 12, 2022, Morrison filed a reply and a supplement to the reply.

Burden of Proof

{¶4} A requester must establish a public records violation by clear and convincing evidence. Hurt v. Liberty Twp., 2017-Ohio-7820, 97 N.E.3d 1153, 27-30 (5th Dist.). The requester must plead and prove facts showing he sought an identifiable public record from a public office pursuant to R.C. 149.43(B)(1) and that the public office did not make the record available. Welsh-Huggins v. Jefferson Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 163 Ohio St.3d 337, 2020-Ohio-5371, 170 N.E.3d 768, 33. Broeren advised Morrison that he searched for, located, and produced all requested records. (Reply at 9.) A requester challenging such an assertion must show by clear and convincing evidence that one or more additional responsive records exists and was not made available. State ex rel. Cordell v. Paden, 156 Ohio St.3d 394, 2019-Ohio-1216, 128 N.E.3d 179, 5-10.

Records Made Available

{¶5} Morrison claims that he "didn't receive the text messages of Councilmember Tanner Salyers." It is not clear whether Morrison is 1) claiming that...

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