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Documents Filed Under Seal Are Still Subject To Public Records Requests

In the case of Heisig v. MetroHealth Sys., 2018-Ohio-4925, the Ohio Court of Claims adopted a special master’s recommendation that public records previously filed under seal with a judicial court must still be provided pursuant to a public records request absent a specific exemption.

In this case, a public office denied a public record request for employee records stating that the public office was “‘not authorized’ to release a public record that is subject to a court order allowing the record to be filed ‘under seal.’” Heisig at ¶ 6. The Court of Claims refused to recognize a blanket exception to the Ohio Public Records Act even when the requested records were filed under seal with a court because a record filed under seal simply restricts access to requests made of the court – the filing under seal does not restrict access to the same records made to the public entity. Additionally, the Court of Claims went on to hold that any portions of the record that are exempt from disclosure could be redacted rather than withholding the record as a whole.

This case serves as a reminder that public offices are only able to withhold records when there is a specific exemption provided for by statute. When faced with private information in a record, a public office should consider redaction rather than a blanket denial.

To read the report and recommendation in Heisig, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling, Patrick Vrobel, and John T. Sulik, Jr.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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