Laketran Board of Trustees, 02-LW-6440

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtDONALD R. FORD, J.
Citation2002 Ohio 3496
PartiesLAKETRAN BOARD OF TRUSTEES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CITY OF MENTOR, Defendant-Appellant. CASE
Docket Number2001-L-027,02-LW-6440
Decision Date01 July 2002

2002-Ohio-3496

LAKETRAN BOARD OF TRUSTEES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.

CITY OF MENTOR, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 2001-L-027

02-LW-6440 (11th)

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Lake County

July 3, 2002


Civil Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 00 CV 000050

Judgment: Affirmed.

Mark I. Wallach and Julie A. Harris, Calfee, Halter & Griswold, L.L.P., 1400 McDonald Investment Center, 800 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44114-2688, and Donald J. Ezzone, Donald J. Ezzone Co., L.P.A., Interstate Square Building I, 4230 State Route 306, #240, Willoughby, OH 44094, and Barry M. Byron, Byron & Byron Co., L.P.A., Interstate Square Building I, 4320 State Route 306, #240, Willoughby, OH 44094 (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

Daniel F. Richards and Geoffrey W. Weaver, Wiles and Richards, Centre Plaza South, 35350 Curtis Boulevard, #530, Eastlake, OH 44095 (For Defendant-Appellant).

OPINION

DONALD R. FORD, J.

Appellant, the city of Mentor, is appealing from a February 16, 2001 judgment entry of the Lake County Court of Common Pleas.

Appellee, Laketran Board of Trustees, is a public entity and has the statutory power to manage and conduct the affairs of Laketran, the regional transit authority for Lake County, Ohio. Pursuant to R.C. 306.31, appellee is considered a political subdivision of this state and exists for the primary purpose of acquiring and operating public transit facilities. As part of its general powers, appellee has the ability under R.C. 306.35(K) to exercise the power of eminent domain.

Consistent with its statutory purpose, appellee operates a number of Park-and-Ride facilities throughout Lake County. These facilities consist of large parking lots, with bus depots. Patrons can park in the lot and ride an express bus to downtown Cleveland.

In 1995, appellee purchased twelve acres of land located near the intersection of State Route 306 and Adkins Road in Mentor, Ohio. Appellee planned to build a Park-and-Ride facility on nine acres of the land. Appellee chose this particular parcel because it was located a short distance from State Route 2, a major four-lane highway that provides Lake County residents with access to Cuyahoga County and Cleveland. Appellee had concluded that the parcel was an ideal location for the Park-and-Ride facility because its buses would have easy access to Route 2 via a large clover-leaf interchange which is located at the intersection of Routes 2 and 306.

Pursuant to the Mentor zoning code, appellee's parcel can be used only for single-family dwellings. However, the ordinance also states that the parcel can be used for certain "public" facilities if a conditional use permit is obtained from the Mentor Planning and Zoning Commission. Appellee's parcel is located near two residential neighborhoods, which have been developed within the past few years. Existing homes are immediately adjacent to the east, west, and north sides of the parcel. Although the land south of the parcel is zoned for commercial use, there are no commercial buildings located on the same side of Route 2 where the parcel is situated.

Prior to acquiring the parcel, appellee's general manager, Frank Polivca ("Polivca"), spoke to certain Mentor officials, including its city manager, about the possibility of building a Park-and-Ride facility at that site. Based upon these conversations, Polivca determined that city officials would not oppose the construction of such a facility. Accordingly, after finalizing the deal for the land, appellee filed an application for a conditional use permit with the Mentor Planning and Zoning Commission ("the Commission").

The Commission conducted five separate hearings on appellee's permit application. During these proceedings, appellee presented unsworn testimony which tended to prove that the parcel in question had certain characteristics which made it the ideal location from which to provide bus services for residents in that area of Lake County. The Commission also determined that the operation of the Park-and-Ride facility would not adversely affect the quality of life in the adjacent residential developments and would not decrease the value of the homes.

Although appellant's officials had previously indicated they would not oppose the plan for the Park-and-Ride facility, appellant presented unsworn testimony during the Commission hearings contradicting the testimony of appellee's witnesses. Appellant's expert witnesses testified that there were other sites which would be adequate for a Park-and-Ride facility and that the air and noise pollution emitted from a Park-and-Ride facility at the Adkins Road site would harm the adjacent residential developments.

After hearing the conflicting evidence, the Commission voted to deny appellee's application for a conditional use permit. Once this decision had been journalized, appellee filed an administrative appeal with the Lake County Common Pleas Court, pursuant to R.C. 2506.01.

In conjunction with the administrative appeal, appellee also brought a declaratory judgment action against appellants, seeking to have the Mentor zoning ordinance found to be unconstitutional as applied to it. As part of its complaint in this action, appellee alleged that, as a distinct political subdivision under R.C. 306.31, it was immune from the enforcement of the zoning ordinance. However, before a hearing could be held, appellee voluntarily dismissed its declaratory judgment action pursuant to Civ.R. 41(A).

Once the record of the Commission proceeding had been filed in the administrative appeal, appellant moved for leave to submit additional evidence to the trial court under R.C. 2506.03(A). The trial court granted the motion and conducted an evidentiary hearing. The court subsequently ruled that appellee had been entitled to the issuance of a conditional use permit.

Appellant appealed the decision. In Laketran Bd. of Trustees v. Mentor (Oct. 29, 1999), 11th Dist. Nos. 98-L-083, 98-L-088, 1999 WL 1073665, at 6-7 (Laketran I), this court held that the zoning board was not the proper body to determine whether appellee was immune from the Mentor zoning code; therefore, the administrative appeal to the common pleas court was improper. We remanded the matter for the trial court to vacate its judgment and issue a new judgment dismissing the administrative appeal.

Appellee then filed a complaint for declaratory judgment on January 10, 2000. In its complaint, appellee sought a judgment determining that it was immune from Mentor's zoning regulations.

On February 9, 2000, appellant filed a motion for recusal, alleging that the trial judge had personal knowledge of disputed facts in this case. The trial court denied appellant's motion on March 8, 2000. Appellant filed a motion for summary judgment on May 16, 2000, alleging that appellee's claims were barred by res judicata. The trial court overruled appellant's motion in a July 13, 2000 judgment entry. On August 3, 2000, appellant filed a motion for jury trial. The trial court overruled this motion on August 24, 2000.

A bench trial was conducted on November 30, 2001. The parties stipulated that all of the testimony and exhibits accepted into evidence in the prior litigation would be part of the record in the new proceedings.

In a February 16, 2001 judgment entry, the trial court found that appellee was immune from Mentor's zoning regulations. On February 22, 2001, appellant filed its notice of appeal. Then, on July 11, 2001, appellant filed a motion for relief from judgment. On October 4, 2001, the trial court, having had the matter remanded to it by this court, denied appellant's motion for relief from judgment.

Appellant filed a timely appeal of the February 16, 2001 judgment entry and makes the following assignments of error:

"[1.] The trial court erred to the prejudice of [a]ppellant in overruling appellant's motion for summary judgment.

"[2.] The trial court erred to the prejudice of [a]ppellant by overruling [a]ppellant's motion to recuse.

"[3.] The trial court erred to the prejudice of [a]ppellant by overruling [a]ppellant's motion for a trial by jury.

"[4.] The trial court erred to the prejudice of [a]ppellant in determining that [a]ppellee is immune from the zoning ordinances of the [c]ity of Mentor.

"[5.] The trial court erred to the prejudice of [a]ppellant by refusing to allow qualified witnesses to offer expert opinions.

"[6.] The decision of the trial court was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

In its first assignment of error, appellant argues that the trial court erred in failing to grant appellant's motion for summary judgment, which was premised on the theory that the current action is barred by res judicata. The application of the doctrine of res judicata bars any claim arising out of a transaction or occurrence that was the subject matter of a previous action in which a valid, final judgment was rendered upon the merits. Kelm v. Kelm, 92 Ohio St.3d 223, 227, 2001-Ohio-168.

In Laketran I, supra at 7, this court remanded the matter to the trial court to dismiss appellee's administrative appeal. Our decision was premised on the logic that a zoning board was not the appropriate judicial body to determine whether an entity was a political subdivision immune from zoning ordinances. Id. at 5. Therefore, the use of an administrative appeal was improper. Id. at 6. In reaching this conclusion, we did not render judgment upon the merits of appellee's case; instead, we remanded the matter because of procedural issues. Because we instructed the trial court to dismiss the administrative appeal for procedural reasons, appellee's subsequent action was not barred by res judicata. This is analogous to a situation where the trial court has been deprived of subject matter jurisdiction. Under those circumstances, the plaintiff may refile the same action because there has not been a dismissal on the...

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