Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
State ex rel. Wilson-Simmons v. Lake County Sheriff's Dept.
82 Ohio St. 3d 37, No. 97-797 (Ohio Supreme Court, May 20, 1998)
Corrections officers allegedly sent e-mail over a correction facilities' e-mail system which contained racial slurs aimed at Ms. Trudy Wilson-Simmons. Ms. Simmons, who was also a corrections officer, sought a writ of mandamus to compel production of this e-mail to aid in her pursuit of a discrimination claim arising out of its transmission. Ms. Simmons argued that the e-mail constituted a public record which the Sheriff's department was obligated to produce under applicable Ohio State statutes. Under these statutes, a public record is an item "which serves to document the organization, function, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the office."
The court disagreed, and denied Ms. Simmon's application. In reaching this determination, the court held that the requested e-mail did not constitute a public record under applicable Ohio statutes. Said the court:
If, as alleged by Wilson-Simmons, the requested e-mail consists of racist slurs against her by individual co-workers, then, although reprehensible, the e-mail does not serve to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the sheriff's department.
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Therefore, although the alleged racist e-mail was created by public employees via a public office's e-mail system, it was never used to conduct the business of the public office and did not constitute records for purposes of [Ohio statutes] R.C. 149.011(G) and 149.43 (footnote omitted).
The court further held that its ruling was not intended to, and did not shield all e-mail from disclosure. Said the court:
[W]e reject the sheriff's department's broader assertion that no public office e-mail would ever be public records under R.C. 149.011(G) and 149.43. In other words, sometimes, public office e-mail can document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the public office.