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Ohio Prisoner Wins $2,000 Settlement for Guard Abuse Claims, Loses Appeal to Uncover Identity of Prison Officials Who Negotiated It

Matt Clarke

On July 13, 2023, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that a state prisoner who previously settled his excessive force claim against the state Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) for $2,000 had no clear right to the names of DRC personnel involved in settlement negotiations.

In 2016, DRC prisoner Mark R. Russell was involved in an altercation with guards at London Correctional Institution. Claiming they used unconstitutionally excessive force, he filed a pro se lawsuit in 2018, subsequently settling it for $2,000 in June 2021. See: Russell v. Dep’t of Rehab. and Corr., Ohio Court of Claims, Case No. 2018-00978JD.

In July 2021, Russell sent state Attorney General Dave Yost (R) two letters requesting the name of the DRC employee who had communicated with Yost’s office during the settlement negotiations. Yost’s office responded that the information was privileged.

In November 2021, Russell filed a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus in state court to compel Yost to provide the information. Yost responded with a motion to dismiss. The magistrate judge recommended granting the motion, and Russell filed objections, effectively appealing the recommendation.

The Court of Appeals noted that, to be entitled to mandamus relief, the relator must show: (1) a clear legal right to the requested relief; (2) a clear legal duty for the respondent to perform the act; and (3) that no other adequate remedy is available at law. In this case, the Court held that Russell never got beyond the first requirement, and failing to show a clear right to relief doomed his mandamus petition. Yost’s motion to dismiss was granted, and Russell appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Reviewing the ruling by the Court of Appeals de novo, the Supreme Court noted that Russell had failed to claim that Yost violated Ohio’s Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43, nor had he cited any other statute to support his claim. Instead, Russell alleged he had a “Constitutional Right to know who was in charge of making the decisions in his Court Settlement.” Although he cited the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution, Russell failed to “explain how these constitutional provisions” applied to his claim, the Court said. Further, even if his assumption—that had he been represented by an attorney, the attorney would have known the names he is seeking—is correct, it still does not show that Yost is required to provide him the information. Thus the judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. See: State ex rel. Russell v. Yost, 2023-Ohio-2356.  

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Related legal case

State ex rel. Russell v. Yost