State ex rel. Dissell v. City of Cleveland

Decision Date25 August 2021
Docket Number110425
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Andrew Geronimo, and Arcola A. Whatley, for relator.

Barbara A. Langhenry, Cleveland Director of Law, and Jerome A. Payne, Jr., Assistant Director of Law, for respondent.



{¶1} Relator, Rachel Dissell ("Dissell"), seeks a writ of mandamus directing the city of Cleveland ("the city") to produce records responsive to her November 5 2020 records request that sought all communications sent to the Mayor's Action Center ("MAC") in 2018, 2019, and the first ten months of 2020. For the reasons that follow, we deny the requested relief because the request is overly broad, constituting a complete duplication of voluminous files.

I. Factual and Procedural History

{¶ 2} Dissell initiated the instant action on April 13, 2021. Her complaint alleges that she sent the following records request to the city on November 5, 2020:

Please provide for the years 2018, 2019 and 2020 through Nov. 1 the following information. Any and all emails to the Mayor's Action Center, with an email address of Please include all information including the name and email address of the sender, time the message was sent and body of the message. In addition, please include any message sent during the same timeframe through the form for the Mayor's Action Center on the City of Cleveland website * * * including the following fields on the form: Title First Name Middle Initial Last name Email Address Street Address City State Zip Code Telephone Ward Comment, question or complaint. Please provide any log of calls to the Mayor's Action Line number - listed as 216-664-2900 for the same time period. Including name and number of caller and reason for calling and any other information logged. Please provide the responsive records as they become available.

{¶ 3} The city responded to the request on November 10, 2020, stating, "Based on State ex rel Glasgow v. Jones, 119 Ohio St.3d. 391, [2008-Ohio-4788, 894 N.E.2d 686, ] we are responding that this request is overly broad for your request for emails. As far as the request for a [call] log, the city has no responsive records. Please re-submit your request by narrowing your search for emails."

{¶ 4} After some further contacts, on November 30, 2020, Dissell sent a letter contesting the denial as overly broad. After some back and forth, on December 4, 2020, the city produced a spreadsheet with information responsive to the request for communications sent through the online form on the city's website, consisting of over 5, 600 communications spanning 1, 682 pages. The city continued to deny the request for a call log, claiming that such a log was not kept. It also maintained that the request for emails was overly broad and asked that the request be narrowed by subject. During negotiations between the parties, Dissell sought the release of one month of emails received by the designated email address for the MAC. She chose October 2019. The city reviewed, redacted, and released some 8, 800 pages of documents responsive to this agreed request. Further negotiations were not successful, and Dissell commenced suit.

{¶ 5} After unsuccessful mediation, the city filed an answer. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on June 21, 2021. Briefs in opposition were filed on July 6, 2021. As part of a status update, Dissell also submitted the records that she had received from the city.

II. Law and Analysis
A. Applicable Standards

{¶ 6} Ohio's Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43, embodies a strong public policy for open access to records maintained by Ohio's public institutions. Where a requester of records feels that a governmental agency or employee has failed to live up to the duties imposed by the Act, a writ of mandamus is one of the appropriate avenues for relief. R.C. 149.43(C)(1)(b); State ex rel Mun. Constr. Equip. Operators' Labor Council v. Cleveland, 162 Ohio St.3d 195, 2020-Ohio-3197, 165 N.E.3d 214, ¶ 7, citing State ex rel Rogers v. Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 155 Ohio St.3d 545, 2018-Ohio-5111, 122 N.E.3d 1208, ¶ 5. "To be entitled to the writ, the relator must establish a clear legal right to the requested relief and a corresponding clear legal duty on the part of the respondent to provide that relief." Id., citing Rogers at ¶ 5. Broad access to public records is the goal, so "'any doubt is resolved in favor of disclosure of public records.'" State ex rel. Summers v. Fox, 163 Ohio St.3d 217, 2020-Ohio-5585, 169 N.E.3d 625, ¶ 27, citing State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Hamilton Cty., 75 Ohio St.3d 374, 376, 662 N.E.2d 334 (1996).

{¶ 7} Where a records custodian denies a records request based on exceptions to the Public Records Act, the custodian "bears the burden of proof with respect to those exceptions." Id. at ¶ 28, citing State ex rel. Besser v. Ohio State Univ., 89 Ohio St.3d 396, 398, 732 N.E.2d 373 (2000). "To meet this burden, a custodian must prove that the requested records fall squarely within the exception." Id., citing State ex rel. Miller v. Ohio State Hwy. Patrol, 136 Ohio St.3d 350, 2013-Ohio-3720, 995 N.E.2d 1175, ¶ 23.

{¶ 8} The case is before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Pursuant to Civ.R. 56(C), judgment may be granted when all the properly submitted pleadings and evidence "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." When reviewing all of the evidence and pleadings allowed under this rule, summary judgment is appropriate where "reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse to the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that party being entitled to have the evidence or stipulation construed most strongly in the party's favor." Civ.R. 56(C). See also State ex rel Parker v. Russo, 158 Ohio St.3d 123, 2019-Ohio-4420, 140 N.E.3d 602, ¶ 5-10.

{¶ 9} In her motion for summary judgment, filed June 21, 2021, Dissell sets forth the records that are still at issue in this case: "(1) unproduced MAC emails from 2018, 2019, and through November 2020 (except for October 2019), and (2) any records that document telephone calls to the MAC number." This constitutes an acknowledgement that the request for records received by the MAC through the online form has been satisfied. The request for online submittals was satisfied prior to the institution of this action. Therefore, this opinion will be limited to the two types of records identified above.

B. Emails and Overbreadth

{¶ 10} A records custodian has a duty, under R.C. 149.43(B)(1) to prepare and make available all public records responsive to a request. State ex rel Shaughnessy v. Cleveland, 149 Ohio St.3d 612, 2016-Ohio-8447, 76 N.E.3d 1171, ¶ 8. However, a records request that is so vague or broad that a records custodian cannot properly provide records in response does not trigger this duty. Pursuant to R.C. 14943(B)(2), the custodian may deny the request for these reasons, but "shall provide the requester with an opportunity to revise the request by informing the requester of the manner in which records are maintained by the public office and accessed in the ordinary course of the public office's or person's duties." It is up to the requester to identify with sufficient clarity the requested records, and the failure to do so impacts a relator's ability to demonstrate entitlement to relief in mandamus. State ex rel Zidonis v. Columbus State Community College, 133 Ohio St.3d 122, 2012-Ohio-4228, 976 N.E.2d 861, ¶ 21.

{¶ 11} Further, "'the Public Records Act "does not contemplate that any individual has the right to a complete duplication of voluminous files kept by government agencies."'" State ex rel Kesterson v. Kent State Univ., 156 Ohio St.3d 22, 2018-Ohio-5110, 123 N.E.3d 895, ¶ 22, quoting Glasgow, 119 Ohio St.3d 391, 2008-Ohio-4788, 894 N.E.2d 686, at ¶ 17, quoting State ex rel. Warren Newspapers, Inc. v. Hutson, 70 Ohio St.3d 619, 624, 640 N.E.2d 174 (1994). See also Gupta v. Cleveland, Ct. of Cl. No. 2017-00840PQ, 2018-Ohio-3475, ¶ 26, citing State ex rel. Dehler v. Spatny, 11th Dist. Trumbull No. 2009-T-0075, 2010-Ohio-3052, ¶ 4, 18 ("A public records request is * * * unenforceable if it is too voluminous, vague or indefinite to be properly acted on by the records holder.").

{¶ 12} Here, Dissell has requested essentially all records of non-emergency communications sent to the MAC by anyone by phone, web form, or email for a 34-month period. We must determine whether the city has demonstrated this constitutes an overly broad request that amounts to a complete duplication of voluminous files maintained by the government.

{¶ 13} Dissell argues that the request is temporally limited as well as limited by subject-matter and, therefore, does not constitute a complete duplication of voluminous records. Dissell asserts that her records request was not overly broad under the standard announced in Kesterson. She claims that the Kesterson court clarified that "even expansive requests are not objectionable as overbroad unless they 'fail[] * * * to identify the records * * * with sufficient clarity.'" Relator's brief in opposition to summary judgment, filed July 6, 2021, page 3, quoting Kesterson at ¶ 24-25.

{¶ 14} This case did not announce a new standard, and Dissell's argument that pre-Kesterson cases cited by the city no longer constitute a valid source...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT