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Private Entities May Be Subject To The Ohio Public Records Act When They Are The “Functional Equivalent” Of A Public Office

In the case of Schutte v. Gorman Heritage Farm Found., 2019-Ohio-1611, the Ohio Court of Claims adopted the report and recommendation of a special master which found that a private, non-profit, corporation which provides government services is not subject to the Ohio Public Records Act unless that corporation serves as the “functional equivalent of a public office.” Schutte at ¶ 6.

In this case, an individual requested that a private, non-profit corporation operating a public park under contract with a village provide certain records under the Ohio Public Records Act. The private, non-profit corporation denied the request asserting that, as a distinct non-profit entity, the private, non-profit corporation was not subject to the Ohio Public Records Act.

Under the Ohio Public Records Act, the mere fact that an entity is a private, non-profit corporation does not preclude that entity from being a public office. A private entity is a “public institution” and, therefore, is a public office for purposes of the Ohio Public Records Act when it serves as the “functional equivalent” of a public office. Schutte at ¶ 6.

While the private, non-profit corporation “perform[ed] significant functions akin to a public park service on government land,” the special master found that the requester did not show “by clear and convincing evidence that [the private, non-profit corporation was] the functional equivalent of a public office for purposes of the Public Records Act.” Schutte at ¶¶ 24-25.

To read the special master’s report and recommendation, 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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