Open Government on the Docket

State of Ohio, ex rel. Plunderbund Media, LLC v. Ohio Dept. of Public Safety

Read the ACLU of Ohio’s friend-of-the-court brief

Read the August 27, 2014 Ohio Supreme Court decision

Status:
Closed
Case Dates:
Thursday, 12 September, 2013 - Wednesday, 27 August, 2014
Facts:

The Ohio Department of Public Safety denied a request for records of investigations into threats against the governor submitted by Plunderbund Media LLC. Plunderbund has a history of blogging and providing commentary about Ohio politics.  Previously, the Ohio Democratic Party requested the Governor’s daily schedules, apparently to expose the Governor’s misuse of state resources.  The request for the Governor’s schedules was refused by the Department of Public Safety based on safety concerns and alleged threats which had been levied against the governor. To determine the legitimacy of these alleged threats, Plunderbund submitted a document request pursuant to R.C. 149.43 to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.  The Department of Public Safety refused to provide the requested information, citing safety and security concerns. With the assistance of attorney Victoria Ullman, Plunderbund filed suit in the Supreme Court of Ohio demanding that the documents be produced and, if necessary for the governor’s safety, that sensitive information be redacted.

The Department of Public Safety’s position was that releasing this information would subject the governor and his family to potential harm since threats against the Governor are, by definition, security records which are not public and are not subject to mandatory disclosure under the Public Records Act.  Plunderbund’s contention was that the public has the right to monitor the conduct of the government and the redaction of any sensitive information would eliminate the security concern.

Legal Theory:

By submitting an amicus brief, the ACLU addressed the efficacy of open records laws and their vital importance to an open and transparent government. The State’s refusal to provide Plunderbund with the requested information violated Ohio’s Open Records law, permitting the government to operate in unnecessary secrecy.

Status:

We filed our amicus brief with the Supreme Court of Ohio on September 12, 2013. Plunderbund filed its brief on September 13. The Ohio Department of Public Safety filed its merit brief on October 3, 2013.  Oral arguments were heard May 27, 2014.

On August 27, 2014, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled against Plunderbund.  The Court held that the records of threats made against the governor are not public records and that, as a result, Plunderbund has no legal right to them.