- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A law firm submitted too broad a records request when it asked for data on residences in the state’s biggest county where children were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, the Ohio Supreme Court said Thursday in rejecting the request.

By linking the demand to specific blood-lead levels, Lipson O’Shea Legal Group made it impossible for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health to comply without identifying specific individuals, the court ruled in a unanimous decision.

“It is undeniable that the address of a home where a child has an elevated blood lead level can be used to identify the afflicted child,” wrote Justice Paul Pfeifer.

The high court sent the case back to a judge to see if any of the board’s 5,000 pages of records could be released to the firm. Pfeifer also said the information might be available if a different set of documents was requested.

At issue was Lipson O’Shea’s 2012 public records filing for documentation of all homes in Cuyahoga County “where a minor child was found to have elevated blood lead levels,” according to the court ruling. The request included a specific blood-lead level amount.

Both a judge and an appeals court said state law prohibits releasing such records if the information could be used to reveal an individual’s identity.

Pfeifer said the problem was the specific request made by the law firm. In arguments filed with the court, Lipson O’Shea also identified other records that don’t contain protected health information, such as lead hazard violation notices and health department correspondence with landlords, Pfeifer noted.

“If that is the case, Lipson O’Shea should have requested access to those documents,” Pfeifer said. A message was left with the firm.

Pfeifer said Thursday’s decision differed from the court’s 2006 ruling that ordered the Cincinnati Health Department to give the Cincinnati Enquirer records on lead paint hazards.

In that request, the newspaper asked for citation letters for properties where a child’s blood was found to have high levels of lead.

The court found those records didn’t contain any information about “medical examination, assessment, diagnosis, or treatment of any medical condition” of individuals, Pfeifer said.

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