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Public Records FAQ


What is a public record?

Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A) defines a public record as those records kept by any public office, including, but not limited to:

  • the state
  • a county
  • a city
  • a village
  • a township
  • school district units
  • records pertaining to the delivery of educational services by an alternative school in this state kept by the nonprofit or for-profit entity operating the alternative school. Ohio Revised Code 3313.533.

That same statute provides a list of records that the Ohio legislature has specifically deemed not public records. In addition, the Courts in Ohio have also designated certain records as not public records. Despite these exceptions, the general rule in Ohio is that records kept by a public agency in the normal course of business are public records.

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How do I request a public record?

While the law in Ohio allows you to ask for a public record in a variety of ways, by far the most effective method is to request it in writing. Begin by writing down a list of the information you want. Then prepare a letter or email to the public agency. If you don't know the addressee, contact the public agency’s main office and request the contact information for the employee who's responsible for public records. It's helpful if your correspondence includes your name and address, the date, and a daytime phone number. This makes it easy for individuals at the public agency to contact you if they have any questions.

Although you're not required to submit your request on a specific form, the Court of Claims does provide a sample request form for you to use. Please use sufficient detail to describe the information you need, so the public body can find the requested record(s). Providing as much information about the subject matter as possible helps to speed up the search process. However, it's not necessary to specifically and accurately describe the record(s) or use the same name the public agency uses. As long as the public agency understands what you're requesting, it must release that information (unless there is a legal exception).

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The public agency says they do not know what I'm asking for. Why does that matter?

If your request is overly broad or hard to understand, the agency can deny your request. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(2) states:

“If a requester makes an ambiguous or overly broad request or has difficulty in making a request for copies or inspection of public records under this section such that the public office or the person responsible for the requested public record cannot reasonably identify what public records are being requested, the public office or the person responsible for the requested public record may deny the request but shall provide the requester with an opportunity to revise the request by informing the requester of the manner in which records are maintained by the public office and accessed in the ordinary course of the public office's or person's duties.”

Before making a request, it's important to organize and prioritize the information you want from the public agency and to be clear in your request about what record(s) you're seeking.

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The public agency says that it will take a few days to find my public record(s). Can they make me wait?

Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(1) requires that public records requests be promptly prepared. Reasonable people may differ about what that means, but the clear intent of the legislature is that a public agency must comply with a records request as soon as practicable.

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Can the public agency charge a fee for my public records request?

While the agency cannot charge a “fee” for providing copies of public records, the law does allow a public agency to charge costs for making physical copies of records and for postage if mailing records to you. These costs are ordinarily due in advance. Ask for an estimate before you order your record(s).

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Can I just go to the office and view the records instead of requesting that public records be sent to me?

Yes. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(1) requires that public records be promptly prepared and made available for inspection at all reasonable times during regular business hours. For your own convenience, it would probably be best to call ahead and make sure the records are ready for you.

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What happens after I make my request for a public record?

The process for how a public agency should respond to a request for a public record is defined in Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(1):

“Upon request and subject to division (B)(8) of this section, all public records responsive to the request shall be promptly prepared and made available for inspection to any person at all reasonable times during regular business hours. Subject to division (B)(8) of this section, upon request, a public office or person responsible for public records shall make copies of the requested public record available at cost and within a reasonable period of time. If a public record contains information that is exempt from the duty to permit public inspection or to copy the public record, the public office or the person responsible for the public record shall make available all of the information within the public record that is not exempt.”

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The public agency refused to comply with my records request. Now what?

You have a couple of choices. However, before moving forward with either of them, make sure that your request has truly been denied and that you know the reason for the denial. If possible, it's best to get the denial in writing. If you submitted a verbal request, the agency does not have to give you a written reason for the denial. However, if you requested your record(s) in writing, the agency must provide a written explanation of the denial. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(3). This is why you should always make your request in writing, and why it's best to use the sample request form on our website.

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I have my denial for public records in writing. What do I do now?

You have two legal options:

  • File a writ of mandamus in your county common pleas court or your local court of appeals.
  • File a complaint here in the Court of Claims.

You must choose one or the other -- you cannot do both. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (C)(1).

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How do I know if I should file my public records case in the Court of Claims?

It's best to sit down with a lawyer and discuss your rights and options. Ohio law forbids employees of courts and clerks’ offices from giving legal advice. Keep in mind, however, that when the legislature created a public records process in the Court of Claims, they made sure it was streamlined and that it did not require hiring an attorney.

Regardless of which method you choose (writ of mandamus or filing a complaint in the Court of Claims), you must choose one or the other -- you cannot do both. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (C)(1).

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How do I get the Court of Claims to review the denial of my public records request?

You need to download the required Public Records Access Formal Complaint form and fill it out completely. You may file your complaint in person, by eFile, or mail the complaint form and any additional documents to:

Ohio Court of Claims
The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center
65 South Front Street, 3rd Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215

You must pay a $25 filing fee for the Court to process your case. You may pay cash if filing in person, or mail your check or money order, made payable to the Ohio Court of Claims. Please do not mail cash. You may pay by credit card if you eFile.

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Does it cost money to file a public records case?

Yes. The law requires that you pay a $25 filing fee when filing a complaint. Ohio Revised Code 2743.75 (D)(1). You may pay in cash if filing in person, or mail your check or money order, made payable to the Ohio Court of Claims. Please do not mail cash. You may pay by credit card if you eFile.

You may also be responsible for court costs associated with your case. Click here to see the list of fees & costs.

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What happens once you receive my public records complaint form?

The Clerk of the Court will review your complaint to make sure it meets the minimum legal requirements necessary for the Court to act on your complaint.

  • If the complaint does not meet the minimum legal requirements, it will be returned to you with a written explanation and your filing fee*. You may then correct any errors and return the form, with the filing fee, to the court for processing.
  • If your complaint does meet the requirements, then the Court will begin the process of reviewing your complaint.

*Only filing fees paid directly to the Court of Claims will be returned.

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What can I expect once this review process begins?

You will be contacted by one of the staff attorneys here at the Court, usually within three business days of our receipt of your complaint. The attorney will review your request to properly understand what records you requested and why you did not receive those records. If you requested a large quantity of records, the staff attorney may ask you to prioritize your request. Once the staff attorney has that information, he or she will contact the public agency to find out why your request was denied. This simple act of communication frequently resolves the problem. If it does not, then your complaint will be referred for formal mediation.

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Why does my public records complaint have to go to mediation?

Your complaint goes to mediation because that is what the law requires. Ohio Revised Code 2743.75 (D)(1). Mediation makes it possible for many disputes to be resolved more quickly, at less cost, and to everyone's satisfaction—rather than going through the formal legal process.

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What exactly is mediation?

In mediation, the disputing parties work with a neutral third party, called the mediator, to resolve their disputes. The mediator facilitates the resolution of the parties' disputes by supervising the exchange of information and the bargaining process. The mediator helps the parties find common ground and deal with unrealistic expectations. He or she may also offer creative solutions and assist in reaching an agreement. The role of the mediator is to interpret concerns, relay information between the parties, frame issues, and define the problems.

You’ll find additional information about our mediation program on our Alternative Dispute Resolution page.

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Who will mediate my public records case?

The Court of Claims will select a trained, experienced attorney mediator to work with you and the public agency to help resolve your dispute. The mediator may be an employee of the Court of Claims, the Ohio Supreme Court Dispute Resolution section, or one of the other independent contract mediators who regularly provides mediation services. Ohio Revised Code 2743.79 (E )(1). All mediation sessions will be conducted by phone or other technological means (e.g. video conference).

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What if mediation does not resolve my dispute with the public agency?

In the unlikely event that mediation does not resolve your dispute, your complaint will be assigned to an experienced attorney, called a Special Master, here at the Court of Claims for a formal legal ruling. The Special Master will review the documents you filed and any response submitted by the public agency and issue a report and recommendation. There will be no hearing or trial, and the law prohibits the Special Master from having access to any information about what was discussed in your mediation session.

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What if I disagree with the report and recommendation of the public records Special Master?

You can object to the report and recommendation issued by the Special Master, but you have to object in writing within seven days after you receive the report. If you object in a timely manner, a judicial officer here at the Court will review the report for legal errors. If there are no errors, the Court will issue a final order, which you may appeal to the appropriate court of appeals.

Law requires that you file the appeal in the appellate district in the principal place of business of the public office from which you requested the public record. Ohio Revised Code 2743.75 (G)(1). Ohio has 12 appellate districts, or courts of appeal, each with different rules for filing an appeal. To learn more about how to properly appeal a case, check with the specific court of appeals in that location.

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