State ex rel. Sultaana v. Mansfield Corr. Inst.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation2023 Ohio 1177
Docket Number2022-0702
PartiesThe State ex rel. Sultaana v. Mansfield Correctional Institution.
Decision Date12 April 2023

Submitted January 10, 2023

Amirah Sultaana, pro se.

Dave Yost, Attorney General, and John H. Bates, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent.

Mandamus-Public records-R.C. 149.43-Writ granted in part and denied in part.

IN MANDAMUS

Per Curiam

{¶ 1} This original action is brought under Ohio's Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43, by relator, Amirah Sultaana against respondent, the Mansfield Correctional Institution ("the prison"). Sultaana seeks a writ of mandamus compelling the prison to produce records regarding three assaults committed against her son during his incarceration at the prison. The prison provided Sultaana with incident reports related to the first and second of the three assaults and a conduct report related to the first assault, but it redacted the names and inmate numbers of the inmates involved in the assaults. The prison asserted that all responsive records had been produced, without acknowledging that Sultaana had requested records regarding the third assault.

{¶ 2} For the reasons that follow, we grant the writ with respect to some of the requested records, grant a limited writ compelling the prison to produce additional requested records or to certify that no responsive records exist, and deny the writ with respect to the other requested records. We also deny Sultaana's motions to transfer this case to the Ohio Court of Claims, to strike the prison's merit brief, to seal or redact her own merit brief, and for statutory damages.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Nature of the records requests

{¶ 3} Sultaana frequently communicated with the prison warden's office from September 2021 through June 2022, to request information and records regarding her son's incarceration, with particular focus on assaults committed against him on June 9, September 15, and October 14, 2021. The following is a chronological list of Sultaana's requests and the prison's responses, the latter of which were sent to her by David Robinson, the warden's administrative assistant:

Request No. 1: On September 22, 2021, Sultaana requested the "names of the inmates and any other individuals or personnel" who were "involved in the * * * assault of [her] son" on March 15, 2021, and "approximately around 3 months ago"; medical reports related to those assaults; and information regarding "how these situations were handled and how these assailant[s] were punished."
Request No. 2: On October 7, Sultaana clarified that the assaults occurred on June 9 and September 15, 2021. She reiterated her initial requests and additionally requested the inmate numbers of the assailants.
Request No. 3: On October 16, Sultaana requested the name and inmate number of an inmate who was housed with her son, copies of incident reports for all inmate assaults and fights, and incident reports for all inmate deaths caused by inmates or prison officials from February 2021 through October 16, 2021.
Response No. 1: On October 22, Robinson sent Sultaana several types of incident reports, with minor redactions, including redactions of the names and inmate numbers of the assailants. He also provided a medical report and an emergency assessment, with the entire substance of those documents redacted under R.C. 5120.21(C).
Request No. 4: On October 25, Sultaana told Robinson that his response was not complete, because she had received documents related to only the September assault. For the first time, she requested records regarding an assault against her son that occurred on October 14, 2021 (the third assault).
Response No. 2: On November 10, Robinson sent Sultaana four redacted records related to the June 9 assault-an incident report, a medical report, a report notifying the Ohio State Highway Patrol ("OSHP") of the assault, and a conduct report for the inmate who assaulted her son. He explained that "institution information" had been redacted under R.C. 149.433 and this court's decision in McDougald v. Greene, 162 Ohio St.3d 250, 2020-Ohio-4268, 165 N.E.3d 261; that the medical records were redacted under R.C. 149.43(A)(1)(a) and R.C. 5120.21(C); and that "inmate information" was redacted under R.C. 5120.21(F).
Request No. 5: On November 16, Sultaana told Robinson that the records provided to her regarding the June 9 assault were incomplete and that she had not received any documents regarding the October 14 assault.
Response No. 3: On November 17, Robinson informed Sultaana that she had received all the records responsive to her requests that were not subject to statutory exceptions and that he considered her public-records requests closed.
Request No. 6: On November 17, Sultaana objected to the closure of her public-records request, because she had not received any documents related to the October 14 assault. She also requested the full legal name of and disciplinary information about the assailant in the June assault, whom she identified as former inmate "Gage"; reiterated her request for her son's medical records regarding that assault; and requested her son's dental records.
Response No. 4: On November 22, Robinson again informed Sultaana that she had received all the records responsive to her requests.
Request No. 7: On June 6, 2022, Sultaana requested security-video footage of the June 9 and September 15 assaults and information regarding her son's protective-control status and "last security review."
Response No. 5: On June 24, Robinson informed Sultaana that the prison had no security-video footage responsive to her request and that information regarding her son's protective-control status and last security review were exempt from disclosure under R.C. 5120.21(F).

{¶ 4} Although Sultaana requested many records from the prison, her claim here is limited to three types of records regarding the assaults against her son: (1) incident reports, (2) conduct reports and dispositions, and (3) security-video footage.

B. Course of proceedings and evidence submitted by the parties

{¶ 5} In June 2022, Sultaana filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus in this court. She thereafter submitted five evidentiary filings, consisting of (1) documents the prison had provided her regarding the June 9 assault, (2) an affidavit from her son, in which he avers that he had provided Sultaana with a power of attorney over him and authorization for the disclosure of his protected health information to her, (3) a second affidavit from her son, in which he alleges that prison officials had tampered with records to conceal evidence of the June assault on him, (4) copies of Sultaana's September 22, 2021 public-records request and a grievance her son had filed against the prison's warden, and (5) two affidavits executed by Sultaana detailing her son's accounts of the assaults, an alleged plot to murder him, an alleged coverup by the prison, and a fourth assault on him.

{¶ 6} In August 2022, this court granted an alternative writ and set a schedule for the parties to submit evidence and briefs. 167 Ohio St.3d 1489, 2022-Ohio-2788, 193 N.E.3d 560.

{¶ 7} Thereafter, Sultaana submitted additional evidence, consisting primarily of her own affidavit. She avers in the affidavit that she requested public records from the prison on numerous occasions by phone, fax, email, and U.S. priority mail. She further avers that the prison informed her that it did not have the requested records, failed to "acknowledge[] specific records" she had requested, and "failed to send correct accurate legal records." Sultaana also submitted a statement of her intent to rely on the prison's evidentiary filings to establish her claim.

{¶ 8} The prison filed an affidavit from Robinson, two volumes of evidence that contain correspondence between Sultaana and the prison from September 22, 2021, through June 24, 2022, including copies of the records provided in response to Sultaana's public-records requests. The prison also submitted a telephone log summarizing most of Robinson's conversations with Sultaana about the requests.

II. PRELIMINARY MATTERS
A. Motion to transfer this case to the Court of Claims

{¶ 9} Sultaana has filed an unopposed motion to transfer this case to the Court of Claims. She offers no reason or support for her request.

{¶ 10} R.C. 149.43(C)(1) provides that a person allegedly subjected to a violation of the Public Records Act may seek redress by filing an action in mandamus or an action in the Court of Claims-but not both. R.C. 2743.75(C)(2) provides a mechanism by which the Court of Claims may dismiss a complaint without prejudice and direct the person allegedly aggrieved to commence a mandamus action in the court of appeals, in certain circumstances. However, no statute authorizes the transfer of a public-records mandamus case from this court to the Court of Claims. Indeed, the Court of Claims has no jurisdiction in mandamus. See R.C. 2731.02 (authorizing this court, the courts of appeals, or the courts of common pleas to issue writs of mandamus); R.C. 2743.03 (governing the original jurisdiction and incidental powers of the Court of Claims). Consequently, we deny Sultaana's motion to transfer.

B. Amended emergency motion to strike respondent's brief

{¶ 11} Sultaana has filed an unopposed amended motion to strike the prison's merit brief for failure to comply with S.Ct.Prac.R. 16.02 and 16.03. She submits that the prison's brief does not include a statement of the facts or identify such a statement in its table of contents.

{¶ 12} S.Ct.Prac.R. 12.07(A) states that merit briefs in an original action shall conform to the requirements set forth in S.Ct.Prac.R. 16.01 through 16.10. S.Ct.Prac.R....

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