Ohio Open Records Law

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The Ohio Open Records Law is contained in Section 149.43 of the Ohio Revised Code. The law describes what records are available, what agencies are covered, what fees can be charged, who can ask for records, and so on.

The Ohio General Assembly first enacted the open records law in 1963; the state's open meetings law was passed earlier, in 1954.

The Ohio Open Meetings Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Ohio FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Ohio sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in Ohio (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).


Lawsuit Year
Beacon Journal Publishing Co. v. City of Akron 1965
State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Krings 2001
State ex rel. Fostoria Daily Review Co. v. Fostoria Hospital Association 1988
State ex rel. Freedom Communications Inc. v. Elida Community Fire Company 1998
State ex rel. Plain Dealer v. Cleveland 1996
State ex rel. Steffen v. Kraft 1993
State ex rel. Toledo Blade v. University of Toledo Foundation 1992
State ex rel. WBNS TV Inc. v. Dues 2004
State ex rel. Warren Newspapers Inc. v. Hutson 1994
State of Ohio v. Allen 2005
TBC Westlake Inc. v. Hamilton County Board of Revision 1998
The Cincinnati Enquirer v. Walter Handy and Malcolm Adcock 2005
Wells v. Lewis 1901


Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Ohio #31 in the nation with an overall percentage of 50.00%.[1]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Ohio 34 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 41 out of the 50 states.[2]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Ohio's law as the 41st worst in the country, giving it a letter grade of "D."[3]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The motivating idea behind Ohio's right-to-know laws was expressed by an Ohio court in 1994 when it wrote, "public records are the people's records, and officials in whose custody they happen to be are merely trustees for the people."[4]

It is important to note that all government divisions are required to adopt a public records policy and nominate a keeper of the records. They are also required to give a copy of their public records policy to their particular custodian and he or she must sign that they have received it. Further, the law requires that "[t]he public office shall create a poster that describes its public records policy and shall post the poster in a conspicuous place in the public office and in all locations where the public office has branch offices."[5]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

All records "kept by any public office," as well as records of both non-profit and for-profit private schools, are covered.[6]

Exemptions

Notable exemptions include but are not limited to:

  • medical records
  • parole or probation hearings
  • adoption, parentage and DNA information
  • trial preparation information
  • law enforcement investigations
  • inmate records
  • Department of youth services records
  • intellectual property
  • donor information
  • "peace officer, parole officer, prosecuting attorney, assistant prosecuting attorney, correctional employee, youth services employee, firefighter, or EMT residential and familial information"[7]
  • hospital trade secrets
  • juvenile recreation information
  • examinations
  • financial and personal information of individuals applying for financial assistance

However, Ohio law requires departments to separate exempt and non-exempt material in the same source and release the non-exempt material.[8]

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Agencies include all branches of government and any organization that was "established by the constitution and laws of this state for the exercise of any function of state government," as well as all political subdivisions.[9]

Judicial records

  • "Any record used by a court to render a decision is a record subject to R.C. 149.43," according to State ex rel. WBNS TV Inc. v. Dues, a 2004 decision.
  • Trial judges are not required under the law to release personal notes taken about cases over which they are presiding, according to the 1993 decision in State ex rel. Steffen v. Kraft.
  • In 1998, a court said the report of an attorney-examiner to a county Board of Tax Appeals is exempt from disclosure because a Board of Tax Appeals is a "quasi-judicial body" which is entitled to the deliberative privacy of the courts: TBC Westlake Inc. v. Hamilton County Board of Revision.

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency
  • Documents of the state legislature that are exempted from disclosure include:
  • Documents that are not filed with the clerk of the General Assembly.
  • Documents that communicate between legislative staff and a member of the General Assembly.[10]

Constitutional officers

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State ex rel. Plain Dealer v. Cleveland that the doctrine of separation of powers may mean that Ohio's sunshine law does not apply to the records of the state's constitutional officers (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor, State Treasurer, and Attorney General).

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-Ohio

Ohio's definition of public body within the Open Records Law is fairly expansive and contains four distinct instances where private entities could be considered public bodies.

  1. If the private agency receives public funds.
  2. If an agency performs a public function and receives funds.
  3. If an agency performs a public function and is controlled by a public entity.
  4. If an agency was created by a public body and performs a public function.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, testing and exam material, intellectual property and donor information are explicitly exempted under Ohio ORL 149.43.A.1.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

Anyone may request public documents in Ohio. The law explicitly states, all "public records responsive to the request shall be promptly prepared and made available for inspection to any person."[11]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

Nothing in the Ohio law requires a statement of purpose. In fact records requests need not even be submitted in writing and can be made anonymously.[12]

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

According to statute, there are no restrictions to the use of records, nor can intended use play a role in denying a request.[13]

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

The Ohio law does not specify a time limit on open records requests.

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Ohio law allows for individuals to choose the method and medium in which they would like to receive their requested record. The department can charge fees to cover the cost of producing the record based on their request.[14]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

Ohio law does not elaborate on whether fees may be charged for the labor of searching for and compiling documents.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

The State Attorney General's Office serves as a means for both public officials and citizens to understand their rights and responsibilities under the state's sunshine laws. In addition to providing free training for individuals interested in the concept of open government, the Attorney General publishes a yearly manual called the Sunshine Book that serves as a guide in helping to answer questions related to the laws. The Ohio Public Records Act states that "a person who believes that the Act has been violated must independently pursue a remedy, rather than asking a public official such as the Ohio Attorney General to initiate legal action on his or her behalf."

Ohio government websites

See also: Evaluation of Ohio county websites

As of March 2009, of the 88 Ohio counties, just 28 counties provided information on how to request public records using the Ohio Open Records Law.

See also

External links

References