Neff v. Knapp, 021419 OHCOC, 2018-01124PQ

Docket Nº:2018-01124PQ
Opinion Judge:JEFFERY W. CLARK SPECIAL MASTER.
Party Name:STACEY A. NEFF Requester v. ORANGE TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE LISA KNAPP Respondent
Case Date:February 14, 2019
Court:Court of Claims of Ohio
 
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2019-Ohio-966

STACEY A. NEFF Requester

v.

ORANGE TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE LISA KNAPP Respondent

No. 2018-01124PQ

Court of Claims of Ohio

February 14, 2019

Sent to S.C. Reporter 3/20/19

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JEFFERY W. CLARK SPECIAL MASTER.

{¶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. Claims under R.C. 2743.75 are determined using the standard of clear and convincing evidence. Hurt v. Liberty Twp., 2017-Ohio-7820, 97 N.E.3d 1153, ¶ 27-30 (5th Dist.).

{¶2} In a previous action in this court, requester Stacey Neff sought public records responsive to a September 15, 2017 request to Joel Spitzer, Orange Township Fiscal Officer, for certain communications of Orange County Township Trustee Lisa Knapp: 3) any communications from or to Lisa Knapp related to forensic audit, including communications sent to state auditor or private auditing firm

Neff v. Knapp, Ct. of Cl. No. 2017-00876PQ, 2018-Ohio-2357, ¶ 1. The special master found in that case that the request was improperly ambiguous and overly broad, but that respondent had nevertheless been able to identify and file five responsive records under seal. Id. at ¶ 12, 14. The court found that no public records exception applied to these records, and ordered respondent to disclose them to Neff. Id. at ¶ 14-15, 25; Neff v. Knapp, Ct. of Cl. No. 2017-00876PQ, 2018-Ohio-2910. Neff asserted that she believed additional responsive records existed, but did not submit any admissible evidence in support. Neff v. Knapp, Ct. of Cl. No. 2017-00876PQ, 2018-Ohio-2357, ¶ 16. Knapp attested that "I have not maintained any other document, in my official capacity, which is 'related to forensic audit, including communications sent to state auditor or private auditing firm.'" Id. The special master found that Neff had failed "to show by clear and convincing evidence that additional communications responsive to request No. 3 exist." Id. On June 13, 2018, Orange Township Records Custodian Lee Bodnar sent Neff copies of the emails responsive to Request No. 3 that had been filed under seal. (Complaint at 5-11; Response at 12.)

{¶3} On June 13, 2018, Neff made a new public records request to Bodnar: "This is a public records request for emails sent from Lisa Knapp TO Perry & Associates in 2016 and 2017." (Complaint at 12.) On June 18, 2018, Bodnar responded that the request was again ambiguous and overly broad. Bodnar invited Neff to revise and clarify the request and offered that Neff could contact him with any questions. (Id...

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