Note: This page covers information specific to Ohio. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.
You have a statutory right to inspect a vast number of Ohio’s public records using the state's public records law. See chapter 149, section 43 of the Ohio Revised Code, (Ohio Rev. Code).You do not have to reveal your identity or your intended use of the records, as the official is not permitted to deny your request on these grounds. See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(B)(4).
What Records Are Covered in Ohio
What Government Bodies Are Covered
You are entitled to inspect and copy records of all "public offices" under Ohio’s public records law. The term "public office" is defined broadly and includes state, county, city, village, township, and school district units. See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(A)(1). Consult Access to Government Meetings in Ohio and Ohio State Court Records for more information on how to access records from those government entities.
What Types of Records Can Be Requested
You should be able to request any document or file that the public office has prepared or possesses, unless the records fall under an exemption. See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(A)(1), which states that you can request any "records" of any public office.
A public office may refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:
- Medical records
- Probation or parole records
- Adoption files and records related to adoption proceedings
- Information from records contained in the putative father registry
- Trial preparation records
- Confidential law enforcement investigatory records
- DNA records stored in the DNA database
- Certain inmate records
- Department of Youth Services records pertaining to children in its custody
- Intellectual property records
- Donor profile records
- Records maintained by the Department of Job and Family Services
- Trade secrets
- Information about the recreational activities of a minor
- Certain records from the Child Fatality Review Board
- Test materials or exams for licensure of a nursing home adminstrator
- Financial statements and data that a person submits to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency
See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(A)(1) for more information on the exemptions. Additionally, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ Open Government Guide: Ohio also discusses the exemptions under Ohio’s public records law.
How to Request Records in Ohio
You can make the request in any way you choose, such as via mail or in person. Make your request as specific as possible so the records keeper can find the record. You are not required to provide a written request, although you may want to do so to better clarify your request. If a written request would help the agency better identify and locate the records, the records keeper may ask that you write the request. However, the records keeper must inform you that a written request is not required by law. See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(B)(5). Note that the law only applies to existing documents. The law does not require the agency to create a record in response to your request.
Ohio law does not specify any exact time limits in which the agency must respond to your request. However, upon receipt of your request, the office must "promptly" prepare the records and make them available for inspection. If you have requested copies of the records, these copies shall be provided to you "within a reasonable period of time." See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(B)(1).
The public records law is unclear about the specific fees you may be charged for copies of records. Upon request, the office must make copies "at cost," whch means that they cannot profit from your request. The office can charge for "the cost involved in providing the public record," and you may be required to pay the fee in advance. See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(B)(6). The statute does not specify exact rates the agency may charge (such as a maximum cost per copy).
What Are Your Remedies in Ohio
If the public office denies your request, the office must provide you with a legal explanation for the denial See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(B)(3). If the public office is relying on an exemption, ask the records-keeper to release the nonexempt portions of the record with the exempt portions removed or redacted.
If you feel that the denial does not comply with the Public Records Act, your only remedy is to litigate the case. You can file an action for a writ of mandamus, which is an action asking the court to force the agency to comply with your request. If you prevail in court, you may be entitled to attorney's fees and/or a damage award. See Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(C)(1). Refer to our section on Finding Legal Help for more information on how to get legal assistance to help you assess the merits of a potential lawsuit against the public office.