Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Eighth District: No Blanket Protection for Lead Hazard Public Records

A blanket protection for all documents that a Cleveland-area law firm sought from the Cuyahoga County Board of Health should not have been granted by the trial court, according to a ruling by the Eighth District Court of Appeals. The case has been sent back to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

In January 2012, Lipson O’Shea Legal Group in Rocky River made a public records request to the board of health for documentation or information during a four-year period on all homes in Cuyahoga County where a child was found to have elevated blood lead levels. The board of health identified more than 5,000 pages of documents but determined it was prohibited by law from producing any of the records because they contained “protected health information.” The county court agreed and issued a summary judgment in favor of the board of health.

In its review of the case, the Eighth District three-judge panel was guided by the 2012 Ohio Supreme Court case State ex rel. O’Shea & Assocs., Co., L.P.A. v. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority where it was determined that although some of the lead-poisoning records contained identifying information that should not be released, the records should not be completely excluded in a blanket exemption.

In the appeals court opinion, Judge Larry Jones Sr. agreed with the board of health that forms that include a child’s medical information are not subject to disclosure, even after redaction, however, “We do not agree that the disclosure of (1) the property owner’s name and address, if the property owner is not the parent/guardian of the affected child, and (2) the address of the property, are sufficient to trigger the provision in R.C. 3701.17(A)(2)(b) that prohibits disclosure if the information could be used to reveal the affected child’s identity ‘if used with other information that is available to predictable recipients of the information.’”

That means the landlord property owner’s name and address and the property’s address are subject to disclosure, but any personal identifying information such as children’s names or social security numbers must be redacted.

Judge Jones added that release of the requested information could “help to hold the [board of health] accountable for its duty and promise to reduce lead-related hazards in Ohio’s largest county and reveal its successes or failures in doing so.”

Judges Frank D. Celebrezze Jr. and Tim McCormack agreed with Judge Jones to send the case back to the trial court to execute the appeals court decision.

Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Health v. Lipson O'Shea Legal Group, 2013-Ohio-5736
Civil Appeal From: Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed and Remanded
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: December 26, 2013

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