Goudy v. Tuscarawas Cnty. Pub. Def., 2021-0831

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtDeWine, J.
Citation2022 Ohio 4121
PartiesGoudy, Appellant, v. Tuscarawas County Public Defender, Appellee.
Docket Number2021-0831
Decision Date22 November 2022

2022-Ohio-4121

Goudy, Appellant,
v.

Tuscarawas County Public Defender, Appellee.

No. 2021-0831

Supreme Court of Ohio

November 22, 2022


Submitted May 10, 2022

Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Tuscarawas County, No. 2020 AP 10 0023, 2021-Ohio-1754.

Moses Law Offices, L.L.C., and Michael Moses, for appellant.

Zashin and Rich Co., L.P.A., Scott H. DeHart, Jonathan J. Downes, and Drew C. Piersall, for appellee.

Betsy Rader Law, L.L.C., and Elizabeth A. Rader, urging reversal for amicus curiae Ohio Employment Lawyers Association.

Dave Yost, Attorney General, Benjamin M. Flowers, Solicitor General, and Diane R. Brey and Stephen P. Carney, Deputy Solicitors General, urging reversal for amicus curiae Attorney General Dave Yost.

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DeWine, J.

{¶ 1} Classified civil-service employees in Ohio who are fired from their jobs have a right to challenge their terminations by appealing to the State Personnel Board of Review. A party who loses before the personnel board may appeal to the common pleas court. When that happens, the personnel board is required to certify a complete record of its proceedings to the common pleas court within 30 days of receiving notice of the appeal. If the personnel board misses that deadline, the common pleas court is required to enter judgment in favor of the "adversely affected" party. This case is about what it means to be an "adversely affected" party.

{¶ 2} Here, the personnel board ordered that Kristy Goudy be reinstated to her position at the Tuscarawas County Public Defender's Office. But when the public defender's office appealed that decision to the court of common pleas, the personnel board failed to certify a complete record within the time allotted. The personnel board had inadvertently failed to include the transcript of the second day of the hearing. It subsequently corrected its error and certified the remainder of the record outside the time allotted. The court of common pleas concluded that the delay in certifying the record did not cause any prejudice to the public defender's office and therefore it was not an adversely affected party. The court of appeals disagreed: it determined that one need not be prejudiced to be an adversely affected party and that even if the statute did impose a prejudice requirement, the requirement was met in this case.

{¶ 3} We conclude that the phrase "adversely affected" as used in R.C. 119.12(I) imposes a prejudice requirement. We also conclude that that prejudice has not been shown in this case. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand the case to the court of appeals for it to consider the public defender's office's remaining assignments of error.

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I. Goudy is fired and challenges her termination

{¶ 4} Goudy was a classified employee at the Tuscarawas County Public Defender's Office. Classified employees may be fired only for cause, that is, for grounds enumerated in R.C. 124.34(A). A classified employee may challenge a termination by appealing to the personnel board. R.C. 124.34(B). A party who loses before the personnel board may appeal to the court of common pleas. Id.

{ 5} R.C. 119.12, part of Ohio's Administrative Procedure Act, governs appeals from administrative agencies, such as the personnel board, to the common pleas court. When an appeal is taken, the appealing party must provide the agency with a security deposit to cover the cost of transcribing the record. R.C. 119.12(J). The agency then has 30 days to prepare and certify to the court a complete record of the administrative proceedings. R.C. 119.12(I). If the agency fails to comply with this 30-day requirement, the court "upon motion" is "to enter a finding in favor of the party adversely affected." Id.

{ 6} That remedy is a harsh one in a case like this. In many cases, the agency that conducted the administrative hearing will also be a party to the case. For example, a nurse might appeal a decision by the board of nursing to suspend his license. If the board of nursing does not timely certify the record with the court, it seems fair to penalize the board of nursing for its failure to do so. In other cases, however, the agency adjudicating the action is not a litigant in the case-for example, cases, like this one, involving the personnel board. In such cases, the consequences of the agency's failure fall on a party who had nothing to do with the failure. Nonetheless, absent a finding that the statute violates the state or federal constitutions-and no constitutional challenge has been developed here-we are required to apply the statute as written.

A. Goudy is fired but prevails on appeal to the personnel board

{ 7} In 2018, the public defender's office fired Goudy from her job as a secretary on the basis that she had violated the office's standards of conduct. The

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allegations against her ranged from transferring calls incorrectly and slamming doors to making unwanted sexual comments while touching a coworker's waist. Goudy appealed her firing to the personnel board.

{¶ 8} Following a hearing before an administrative-law judge, the personnel board determined that the public defender's office proved only some of the allegations against Goudy and modified the firing to a ten-day suspension.

B. The public defender's office appeals, and the personnel board certifies an incomplete record

{¶ 9} On October 2, 2019, the public defender's office appealed the order to the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas. At the same time, the public defender's office provided the personnel board with notice of the appeal and a security deposit. See R.C. 119.12(J). Twenty-eight days later, the personnel board certified the record with the court of common pleas.

{¶ 10} Unbeknownst to the personnel board, the transcript for the second day of the hearing was missing from the record. The omission initially went undiscovered, and the case proceeded as normal. On January 8, 2020, the court established a briefing schedule, and on January 9, it set a hearing date of April 27. Then, on January 30, the personnel board discovered its mistake and notified the parties and the court. Seven days later, it filed the rest of the record. In the meantime, the public defender's office moved for judgment in its favor based on the personnel board's failure to timely certify the complete record. The court put merits briefing on hold to allow for briefing on the motion.

{¶ 11} The court held a hearing on the motion for judgment on March 9, and on April 22, it vacated the April 27 merits-hearing date. On April 27, the court denied the motion for judgment, finding that no prejudice had resulted from the personnel board's failure to timely file the complete record. The court opined that to be entitled to judgment, the public defender's office needed to have been prejudiced by the late filing. It observed that the personnel board's filing, albeit

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late, came well before the case was set for a merits hearing. The court then found: "[T]he late filing * * * may have resulted in a modified briefing schedule; however, the late filing alone would not have necessitated a delay of the overall disposition of this case."

{¶ 12} The case proceeded to a hearing on the merits, and the court of common pleas affirmed the personnel board's order. The public defender's office then reinstated Goudy. It also appealed the decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, challenging the common pleas court's decisions on both the motion for judgment and the merits of the case.

C. The court of appeals determines that the personnel board's omission entitled the public defender's office to judgment in its favor

{¶ 13} The Fifth District agreed with the public defender's office that the common pleas court should have entered judgment in its favor. 2021-Ohio-1754, ¶ 25, 28, 40. In doing so, it interpreted this court's precedent as establishing a two-track method for applying R.C. 119.12(I). Id. at ¶ 39. In its view of our precedent, when an agency fails to timely certify the complete record of the administrative proceedings, the common pleas court is required to enter judgment in favor of the appellant. Id. On the other hand, the Fifth District explained, when the agency's submission contains a mere "omission" in an otherwise complete record, an additional showing of prejudice is required for the appellant to be entitled to judgment. Id. The court of appeals categorized the personnel board's error in this case as going beyond a "mere omission," thus eliminating any need for the public defender's office to show prejudice. Id. at ¶ 40, 45. Accordingly, it concluded that the personnel board's failure to file a complete record within 30 days of receiving the notice of appeal entitled the public defender's office to judgment in its favor. Id. at ¶ 43, 45. Even so, the court went on to examine prejudice. Id. at 46.

{¶ 14} The court of appeals disagreed with the court of common pleas' finding that no prejudice had occurred. It found that the personnel board's failure

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to file the complete transcript led to a five-month delay in adjudication and that this delay increased the amount of back pay that the public defender's office would potentially be responsible for paying Goudy. Id. at ¶ 48. In addition, it said that the personnel board's failure caused "a delay in the due process of law." Id. at 49. As a result, it opined in dicta that the public defender's office would be entitled to judgment even if the statute required a showing of prejudice....

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