In the case of Ames v. Rootstown Twp. Bd. of Trustees, 2022-Ohio-4605, the Ohio Supreme Court held that, when a public body commits multiple violations of the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) that are of the same type (i.e., violations of the economic development assistance executive session provision), only a single civil forfeiture penalty shall apply pursuant to R.C. 121.22(I)(2)(a).
In this case, the trial court found that a township violated the OMA on eight separate occasions, but only awarded a single civil forfeiture penalty of $500.00 against the township. The individual bringing the injunctive action argued that the township must be assessed $500.00 for each of the eight violations for a total of $4,000.00. In response, the township argued that only one penalty of $500.00 should apply as the violations were similar since they were all “committed in 2016[,] were of the same type[,] and based on a failure to comply with R.C. 121.22(G)(8)(a) and (b)” (i.e., the economic development assistance executive session provision). The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the township.
In support of its decision, the Ohio Supreme Court explained “that only one civil forfeiture is permitted when a single injunction is issued in response to multiple violations of the OMA through the same conduct” as “[t]he plain text of [R.C. 121.22(I)(2)(a)] ties the obligation to order the public body to pay a civil forfeiture to the award of injunctive relief, not to the finding of one or more violations.” 2022-Ohio-4605 at ¶ 25. The Ohio Supreme Court went on to explain that the civil-forfeiture requirement “serves to both punish the public body for violating the OMA and deter future violations” while, at the same time “ensuring compliance with the OMA” without providing a potential “plaintiff with an unjustified windfall.” Id. at ¶ 26.
It should be noted that the Ohio Supreme Court did “not determine whether multiple violations are of the same type based on whether they are ‘technical’ or ‘nontechnical’ violations.” 2022-Ohio-4605 at ¶ 28.
To read this case, click 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.