Ohio Supreme Court Continues to Refine Definition of “Overbroadness” in Public Records Requests

The Ohio Supreme Court continued to grapple with the issue of overbroadness in public records requests under R.C. § 149.43 in its recent decision in State ex rel. Carr v. London Correctional, 2015-Ohio-2363. Carr involved a claim by a prison inmate who requested a memorandum issued by a prison employee and related e-mail and correspondence within a two months period. The prison refused to provide the documents, stating that the requests were overbroad and improperly required it to undertake research to locate responsive documents. The lower courts agreed, holding that the request was overbroad because it did not specify the subject matter of the documents sought and did not state a more specific date for the e-mails and correspondence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the request which asked for specific documents to identified recipients within a two month period was not overbroad. Notably, the Court awarded the plaintiff-inmate fees as a penalty against the prison, holding that no reasonable public employee would find the inmate’s request to be overbroad. The Court distinguished its own prior decisions applying the overbroad doctrine, including State ex rel. Glasgow v. Jones, 119 Ohio St. 3d. 391 (2008) and State ex. rel. Iscman, 92 Ohio St. 3d. 312(2011), decisions often relied upon by public entities to deny record requests as overbroad.