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Watch Your Cell Phones! Specific Text Messages on Privately-Paid, Personal Cell Phones of Public Officials May Be Public Records

In the case of Sinclair Media III, Inc. v. Cincinnati, 2019-Ohio-2623, the Ohio Court of Claims held that specific text messages on privately-paid, personal cell phones of public officials were public records subject to a public records request.

In this case, the public records requester sought specific text messages regarding a named city employee, between named city officials, over a six week period. The city objected to the request arguing that the text messages were on privately-paid, personal cell phones and were not records of the city.

The Ohio Court of Claims found that “Ohio courts routinely treat text messages and emails sent by public officials and employees in the same manner as any other records, regardless of whether messages and emails are on publicly-issued or privately-owned devices” and that “the operative question [* * *] is not whether the text messages at issue were sent from or stored on personal or private devices, but whether they document the functions, policies, procedures, operations, or other activities of the” public office. Sinclair Media at ¶ 14-15.

Here, the Ohio Court of Claims determined that the text messages reflected the employment decisions of the city and clearly documented the operations and activities of the city. As a result, any text messages – on privately-paid, personal cell phones – that were responsive to the public records request were determined to be public records subject to disclosure.

To read this case, click here.

Compare this blog with our blog entitled, “Personal Cell Phone Messages May Not Be Public Records despite Stipend from School Board,” which you can read by clicking here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

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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