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Attorney fees awarded despite mootness

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    NMU         OHIO         Freedom of Information         Jul 20, 2000    

Attorney fees awarded despite mootness

  • The state Supreme Court said drafts of collective bargaining agreements are public, but found that a lawsuit seeking access to such documents was moot.

Drafts of a collective bargaining agreement between a city and an employee union are public, but a lawsuit seeking access to the documents is moot once they are released, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in late June.

“The public benefits when it receives sufficient notice of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that is being submitted for a vote of a municipal legislative authority in order to provide constructive input to that authority concerning the agreement,” the court said.

Calvary had argued before the Supreme Court that it should still consider her cause of action even though the records had been released before the court decided the matter, because a similar situation could occur again and continue to evade review. But the high court, in an unsigned opinion, disagreed.

In 1999, some of the city of Upper Arlington’s workers decided to organize, and its union representative began negotiating an employment contract with the city. When talks broke down, the workers went on strike Dec. 1. The two sides reached a verbal agreement in principal on Dec. 3, and the striking workers returned to work Dec. 6. During the following weeks, both the city and the union, Teamsters Local 284, prepared separate drafts of the proposed contract.

In the meantime, Arlington resident Eleanor Calvary requested copies of the draft agreements under the open records law, but the city refused to release them. The city manager, Richard King, claimed the documents were not public because the city and the union were still negotiating contract terms.

On Dec. 20, Calvary filed suit in the state Supreme Court for an order to compel the city to release the documents she had requested. The Supreme Court ordered her to justify why such an order was necessary. On Dec. 29, before the Supreme Court had further considered the matter, the city released the various drafts of the proposed contract.

Although it found her case moot, the Supreme Court did award Calvary attorney fees. because Calvary had a legal right to the requested documents, the court said. It noted that drafts of collective bargaining agreements meet the definition of a public record, and no exemption applies to keep them secret. While state law bars public access to collective bargaining meetings, it does not exempt drafts of collective bargaining agreements from public disclosure, the court explained.

(Ohio ex rel. Calvary v. City of Upper Arlington; Counsel: James Becker, Columbus) BB


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