State ex rel. Beacon Journal Pub. Co. v. Andrews, 76-104

Decision Date22 December 1976
Docket NumberNo. 76-104,76-104
Parties, 2 O.O.3d 434 The STATE ex rel. The BEACON JOURNAL PUBLISHING COMPANY, Appellee, v. ANDREWS, Registrar, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. All documents in the possession of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, including all abstracts of records required to be received by and maintained by the registrar pursuant to the provisions of R.C. 4507.40, are public records and shall be kept open at all reasonable times for inspection and, upon request, the registrar shall make copies of such records available at cost within a reasonable period of time.

2. The records of all proceedings of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles are required to be open to the public for inspection at all reasonable times.

This is an original action filed in the Court of Appeals for Franklin County, in which the relator, The Beacon Journal Publishing Company, seeks a writ of mandamus requiring the respondent, Registrar of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, to:

(1) Produce for immediate inspection all documents in its possession which are maintained in compliance with R.C. 4507.40, and specifically, but not exclusively, R.C. 4507.40(F), (K), and (O), including, but not limited to, any and all computer print-outs in the possession or under the control of respondent indicating the Ohio drivers who have received cumulative points in excess of the limits established by R.C. 4507.40(K); and

(2) To produce all records maintained by respondent and in his possession or under his control indicating what steps respondent has taken pursuant to R.C. 4507.40(K) to cause the suspension of those drivers' licenses for the Ohio drivers who have received cumulative points in excess of the statutory maximum so established.

The records which the relator seeks were placed in a computer by the respondent and it is the computer print-outs which the relator seeks to inspect.

The respondent has raised six specific defenses as follows: (1) that information taken from driver's license applications is on the computer print-outs; (2) that the information that respondent may give out is limited by R.C. 4507.25 and 4509.05; (3) that the costs and time for setting up a computer run and analyzing the results for accuracy is prohibitive; (4) that the production of all records maintained by respondent is prohibitive in volume and expense; (5) that the performance of relator's demands by respondent would prevent respondent and his employees from performing their normal duties for an extended period of time; and (6) that compliance with relator's demand would allow relator to violate the right of privacy of citizens as to information respondent is not authorized to reveal.

The Court of Appeals allowed the writ, and the cause is now before this court upon an appeal as of right.

Brouse & McDowell Co., L. P. A., and Norman S. Carr, Akron, for appellee.

William J. Brown, Atty. Gen., Rodney B. Teague, Columbus, and George E. Lord, Lima, for appellant.

C. WILLIAM O'NEILL, Chief Justice.

The stipulated evidence reveals that the respondent has refused to allow relator any inspection whatsoever of the records sought to be inspected.

R.C. 4507.40(A) and (B) provide for the keeping of certain records of traffic violations by every county court judge, mayor, and clerk of court of record, and for the preparing of a certified abstract of every such record in which a person was convicted or has forfeited bail and the forwarding of such abstract to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

R.C. 4507.40(C) provides that the forms for such abstract shall be approved and furnished by the bureau, and provides further that such abstract 'shall include the name and address of the party charged, the number of his operator's or chauffeur's license, the registration number of the vehicle involved, the nature of the offense, the date of the offense, the date of hearing, the plea, the judgment, or whether bail forfeited, and the amount of the fine or forfeiture.'

R.C. 4507.40(D) and (G) provide for other records to be forwarded to the bureau.

R.C. 4507.40(F) provides that the bureaushall 'keep all abstracts received under this section at its main office and shall maintain records of convictions and bond forfeitures for any violation of law or ordinance * * *.'

R.C. 4507.40(K) and (O) provide for action by the registrar based upon the bureau's record in certain cases in the form of letters to certain violators and the suspension of the driving rights of others.

R.C. 4507.25 makes all the records and proceedings required by R.C. 4507.40 matters of public record in the following language: '* * * All proceedings of the registrar shall be open to the public, and all documents in his possession shall be public records.'

R.C. 149.40 provides:

'Any document, device, or item, regardless of physical form or characteristic, created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of any public office of the state or its political subdivisions which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office, is a record within the meaning of sections 149.31 to 149.44, inclusive, of the Revised Code.'

R.C. 149.43 provides:

'As used in this section, 'public record' means any record required to be kept by any governmental unit, including, but not limited to, state * * *, except records pertaining to physical or psychiatric examinations, adoption, probation, and parole proceedings, and records the release of which is prohibited by state or federal law.

'All public records shall be open at all reasonable times for inspection. Upon request, a person responsible for public records shall make copies available at cost, within a reasonable period of time.'

The relator has stipulated that it does not seek any record relating to physical or mental disability.

Respondent's first contention is that since he has commingled in the computer the information on the driver's license applications with the information required to be maintained under R.C. 4507.40, mandamus will not lie to require the respondent to permit relator to inspect and secure copies of the records which R.C. 4507.40 requires respondent to maintain. The respondent's argument is based upon the following language in R.C. 4507.25: '* * * Upon the request of any person accompanied by a fee of fifty cents per name, the registrar may furnish lists of names and addresses as such appear upon the applications for driver's licenses, provided that any further information contained...

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