From 1992 to 2002, the State of Ohio provided the Columbus Dispatch with copies of a computerized file of state employee payroll records, which included state employee home addresses. The State did not redact the home addresses from the records provided to the Dispatch.
Beginning in 2004, the State began redacting the home addresses of employees from the information it provided to the Dispatch. The Dispatch sued, claiming that Ohio’s public records law required the state to turn over the addresses. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the Dispatch’s lawsuit.
The State and a group of “friends of the court” argued that the records of employee home addresses are not “records” for purposes of Ohio’s public records law. The law defines “records” to include “any document…created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of any public office of the state or its political subdivisions, which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office.”
While the State acknowledged that the records of the home addresses were (1) documents that were (2) created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of the state agencies, it contended the third criterion in the statute was not met. As the State argued, the records of home addresses were not designed to “document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office.”
The Supreme Court agreed with the State. The Court found that “at best, home addresses represent contact information used as a matter of administrative convenience. Home addresses generally document the places to which state employees return after they have performed the work comprising the ‘organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities’ of their state agencies. State employees did not agree to become a readily available source for media reports or corroboration of newspaper stories when they became public servants.”
The Dispatch argued that the State’s release of home addresses in the past bound it to continue the practice in the future. The Court was unpersuaded by this “past practice” argument, holding that “the mere fact that the state agencies have released this information to the Dispatch in the past and have released this information to certain state employee unions and nongovernmental vendors does not transform the addresses from non-records to records.”
State ex rel. Dispatch Printing Co. v. Johnson, 833 N.E.2d 274 (Ohio 2005).
This article appears in the February 2006 issue