The Supreme Court of Ohio recently ruled on a public records case between Columbus State Community College and a former employee. The ruling may assist school districts dealing with overbroad public records requests.

In the case, State ex Rel. Zidonis v. Columbus State Cmty. Coll., 2012-Ohio-4228, Sunday Zidonis was terminated from her employment with Columbus State. Following her termination, Zidonis made several public records requests to the college for certain emails as well as complaint and litigation files over a six-year period.

After receiving the public records request for copies of emails, Columbus State responded and informed Zidonis that her request was too broad. Columbus State was unable to determine with specificity which records were being requested. In addition, the college asked Zidonis to revise her request, but she did not. Nevertheless, the college created a special computer program to retrieve emails and provided Zidonis with a redacted copy.

Zidonis then requested the college's complaint and litigation files over a six-year period. Columbus State also denied the request claiming it was ambiguous and too broad. The college noted that it was not required "to provide access to entire record series or categories."

Zidonis filed a writ of mandamus to compel Columbus State to provide her with the requested documents. She also sought statutory damages and attorneys fees. The court of appeals denied the writ of mandamus and Zidonis appealed. On appeal, Zidonis argued that her request for the complaint and litigation files was specific. She also argued that the college had a duty to maintain its email records so they could be retrieved based on sender and recipient status.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Ohio found that Columbus State acted properly. The court determined that the public records requests were overbroad. Additionally, the court ruled that a request naming a broad category of records from a records retention schedule did not narrow down the records with reasonable clarity.

The court noted that Columbus State did not have a duty to maintain email records in a manner in which they could be retrieved based on the sender and recipient. RC 149.43(B)(2) did not require Columbus State to use a program that could easily search work related emails based on sender and recipient status. Therefore, the court could not require Columbus State to implement such a program.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that Columbus State provided Zidonis with the opportunity to revise her request by informing her of how it maintained and accessed its records. However, Zidonis ignored this opportunity. As a result, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that Columbus State complied with RC 149.43(B)(2).

If you have any questions regarding this case, please contact the OSBA legal services division at (614) 540-4000.

Posted by Candice Christon on 9/28/2012