Eighth District Court of Appeals issues opinion on public records case | The City of Lakewood, Ohio

Eighth District Court of Appeals issues opinion on public records case

December 12, 2018

Today the Eighth District Court of Appeals in Cleveland issued an opinion that brings the case of State ex rel. Essi v. the City of Lakewood substantially to a conclusion.

The case, which has been pending since June 2016, involved whether or not the City of Lakewood properly responded to more than 320 records requests made by a citizen after the news emerged that Lakewood Hospital might close.  In response to those requests, the city produced more than 27,000 pages of records.

In its 86-page opinion, a three-judge panel unanimously ruled that “Lakewood has fulfilled its duties to produce the requested records” and that the city is not required to locate or produce any additional documents.

At issue in the case was whether the records requests were written clearly enough to permit the city to respond properly. Even though it produced tens of thousands of pages of records related to the hospital matter, the city argued that it was unable to decipher what records were actually requested based on how the requests were written. Ruling in favor of the city, the court found that the citizen’s public records requests were improperly vague and overbroad because they sought “a complete duplication of the voluminous file on the sale of Lakewood Hospital” and were “more akin to discovery requests than requests for known, identifiable records, like the minutes of a given council meeting.”

The court also reviewed thousands of pages of records already released that bore redaction marks concealing words falling under the attorney-client privilege and obscuring personal matters that had nothing to with the operation of the government, such as public officials’ private calendar appointments. The court upheld nearly all the city’s redactions but ordered that the city release 58 items that had been previously redacted. The city is reviewing these items now.

“After considering the purposes of the public records law, the importance of the requests, the nature of the requests, the 27,000 pages of records released, and the evidence and certifications of the parties,” Judge Kathleen Ann Keough wrote for the court, “this court is convinced that Lakewood has fulfilled its duty to release public records and, except for the records submitted for an in camera inspection, declines to issue a writ of mandamus to compel Lakewood to continue its search for more records coming within the requests.”

“The court has ruled,” Mayor Mike Summers said. “We are grateful for the ruling and appreciate the effort the court put into its opinion.”

“We believe the court understood the complexity of the issues the city faced in this case surrounding more than 300 separate requests and 27,000 pages provided by the city in response to the requests,” Summers said. “We acted in good faith responding to these requests and I believe the court recognized our efforts to meet our public records responsibilities.”

“The city has always taken very seriously its obligation to give the public the records the citizens own and deserve,” said Law Director Kevin Butler. “We feel very strongly that we fulfilled that obligation in this case.”

Read the 86-page opinion, here: https://bit.ly/2QrhYyB.