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Ohio Prisoner Has Now Collected $5,700 for Denied Public Records Requests

On July 26, 2023, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s award of $700 in damages to state prisoner Kimani E. Ware for a public records request denied by the Hamilton County court clerk’s office. However, the Court refused to overturn denial of Ware’s petition for a writ of mandamus and compel production of the records.

As previously reported in PLN, Ware had already won at least $5,000 in damages after public records requests that were denied. Most recently, in March 2023, following the partial grant of a writ of mandamus by the state Supreme Court, Ware successfully petitioned the Court for $1,000 in damages from the Hamilton County court clerk for failing to provide requested records within 10 days, as required by statute. [See: PLN, Aug. 2023, p.59.]

In his most recent case, the Richland Correctional Institution prisoner made 10 records requests, including the clerk’s records retention policy, a list of employees, the employee manual or handbook and records related to a criminal case. The clerk sent form letters denying all 10 requests, pointing to R.C. 149.43(B)(8), which says that prisoners seeking records in criminal cases must obtain permission of the judge who sentenced them (or the judge’s successor). When Ware protested that most of the records were not from a criminal case, the clerk replied by resending the same form letter. So once again Ware filed a pro se petition for a writ of mandamus to compel production of the documents.

The First District Court of Appeals granted the clerk’s motion to dismiss, finding that Ware had failed to file an affidavit listing his prior civil actions as required by R.C. 2969.25(A). Ware appealed, and the Supreme Court determined the affidavit had in fact been filed but was not in the record due to a “clerical error.” Back on remand, though, the First District denied Ware’s motion for default judgment and dismissed his petition.

On appeal once more, the Supreme Court held that since the court clerk had produced documents responsive to eight of Ware’s requests a week after he filed his mandamus petition, and he did not contest the sufficiency of those records, his claims related to those requests were moot. Another of the remaining records requests was properly denied, the Court continued, since the clerk’s office said it had no responsive records. Ware’s final request related to documents in a criminal case, and R.C. 149.43(B)(8) barred him from getting those without permission from his sentencing judge. Since Ware had not obtained that, he was not entitled to the records. Therefore, his mandamus petition was properly denied by the appellate court.

Turning to statutory damages, the Supreme Court noted that Ware submitted his 10 records requests in one envelope, via certified mail. That meant the clerk’s office had violated its obligation to produce the eight responsive records it owed only once, and only for the week it took to cough them up after Ware filed his mandamus petition. Separate damage awards, the Court explained, apply only when records requests are made on different days, seek records related to different subject matter, and/or are submitted to different records custodians. Therefore Ware was entitled to damages of $100 per day denied for his one request, for a total of $700, just as the district court had calculated, so its award was also affirmed. Chief Justice Sharron L. Kennedy authored a separate opinion that concurred in part, arriving at the same $700 in damages but in a different way. See: State ex rel. Ware v. Parikh, 2023-Ohio-2536.  

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Related legal case

State ex rel. Ware v. Parikh