Email Discussions – Are They Public Meetings? The Ohio Supreme Court Will Decide

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear whether Olentangy Local School District violated Ohio’s Sunshine Law. In April 2013, Adam White filed an action against fellow school board members alleging violations of the Ohio Open Meetings Act when school board members emailed each other and agreed upon a written response to a recent Columbus Dispatch article. The trial court dismissed White’s complaint, and the Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed. White v. King, 5th Dist. No. 14 CAE 10, 2014-Ohio-3896. The Court of Appeals found the email communications did not constitute a pre-arranged meeting and at no time had there been a meeting of a majority of the board. The Court of Appeals also believed Ohio’s Sunshine Law does not cover emails because no language regarding electronic communications can be found in R.C. 149.43. This appeal will be watched closely by municipal attorneys because the decision will have a great impact on all public bodies – in a time when everyone has internet and text message capability in the palm of their hand.