Lingo v. State

Decision Date25 March 2014
Docket NumberNo. 2012–1774.,2012–1774.
PartiesLINGO et al.; Glick, Appellant, v. The STATE of Ohio et al.; Wohl, Clerk, Appellee.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Syllabus of the Court

1. Declaratory judgment is not a proper vehicle for determining whether rights that were previously adjudicated were properly adjudicated.

2. A void judgment is a nullity and open to collateral attack at any time.

3. A court has the inherent authority to vacate its own void judgments.

4. A court of common pleas has no power to vacate an order rendered by a municipal court.

Paul W. Flowers Co., L.P.A., and Paul W. Flowers; Bashein & Bashein Co., L.P.A., and W. Craig Bashein; Plevin & Gallucci and Frank Gallucci III, Cleveland; and Dworken & Bernstein Co. and Patrick J. Perroti, for appellants.

Climaco, Wilcox, Peca, Tarantino & Garofoli Co., L.P.A., David M. Cuppage, and Scott D. Simpkins, Cleveland; and

James N. Walters, Berea Director of Law, for appellee.

Peter Galyardt, Assistant Public Defender, urging reversal for amicus curiae Ohio Public Defender.

Reminger Co., L.P.A., Ronald A. Mingus, and Brent S. Silverman, Cleveland, urging affirmance for amici curiae Thomas E. Day Jr., Clerk of the Bedford Municipal Court, Victoria Dailey, Clerk of the Chardon Municipal Court, and Lisa Mastrangelo, Clerk of the Willoughby Municipal Court.

Freund, Freeze & Arnold, Wayne E. Waite, and Adam C. Armstrong, Dayton; and Theodore A. Hamer III, Kettering Law Director, urging affirmance for amicus curiae Andrea White, Clerk of the Kettering Municipal Court.

O'CONNOR, C.J.

{¶ 1} This is an appeal that originated from a class action filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas by Michael A. Lingo, William C. Glick, and Gregory B. Williams against the state of Ohio, the Ohio Department of the Treasury, and Raymond J. Wohl, in his official capacity as the clerk of the Berea Municipal Court. The cause has reached this court with Glick and Wohl as the only remaining parties. In this appeal, we examine whether a class action may be maintained in a common pleas court seeking declaratory and equitable relief related to unappealed municipal court sentences alleged to be void for imposing unlawfully excessive court costs. We hold that such an action may not be maintained.

{¶ 2} Upon determining that Glick's class action against Wohl was viable, the common pleas court declared that multiple costs assessed against Glick as part of his sentence had been unlawful, ordered Wohl to refund a portion of the costs that Glick had paid to the municipal court, and held that class members who had been assessed one or more of the unlawful costs were also owed a refund. The Eighth District Court of Appeals disagreed that the class action was viable, reversed the judgment, and ordered the common pleas court to grant summary judgment in favor of Wohl.

{¶ 3} We affirm the appellate court's judgment, albeit for different reasons than those articulated in the appellate court's opinion. We conclude that the relief requested by appellant, Glick, in his class action was in substance a request to vacate a portion of a judgment of the Berea Municipal Court. Because a court of common pleas has no power to vacate an order rendered by a municipal court, summary judgment should have been granted in favor of appellee, Wohl.

Relevant Background
William Glick's Municipal Court Proceedings

{¶ 4} In August 2004, a Middleburg Heights police officer cited Glick for weaving and for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Under the terms of a plea agreement, Glick agreed to plead guilty to reckless operation and to pay court costs.

{¶ 5} The Berea Municipal Court judge accepted Glick's plea, dismissed the weaving charge at Glick's cost, and convicted him of reckless operation. On April 15, 2005, the municipal court judge imposed Glick's sentence, including costs and a $450 fine.

{¶ 6} As provided by the Berea Municipal Court Loc.R. 5(A), the court periodically establishes a schedule of costs. The court's cost schedule is entered into the court's case-management software program by the clerk's office. Pursuant to the court's direction, the software is programmed to assess state costs once per case and municipal and general court costs once per offense charged. The schedule of costs applicable at the time of Glick's sentencing was established by the municipal court in a January 3, 2005 journal entry.

{¶ 7} Glick was required to pay $427 in costs related to the reckless-operation conviction and $83 in costs for the dismissal of the weaving charge, for a total of $510 in costs. Directly after sentencing, the clerk's office informed Glick that the total amount due for the fine and costs was $960. Glick immediately paid in cash, and the clerk's office issued an itemized receipt. Glick reviewed his receipt and was puzzled that he had been made to pay court costs for the dismissed weaving charge. However, Glick did not appeal his conviction or sentence.

A Class Action for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Restitution Relief

{¶ 8} On June 8, 2005, Glick, Lingo, and Williams (“the plaintiffs) filed a class action in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, naming the state of Ohio as the sole defendant. The complaint alleged that all three plaintiffs had paid court costs associated with traffic violations, Lingo in the Parma Municipal Court in December 2004, Williams in the Rocky River Municipal Court in October 2004, and Glick in the Berea Municipal Court in April 2005. The plaintiffs alleged that in each case, the municipal court assessed costs for each offense instead of once per case, in violation of R.C. 2743.70(A)(1)1 and 2949.091(A),2 as well as other unidentified provisions of state law.

{¶ 9} The complaint further alleged that the state of Ohio authorized, facilitated, and benefitted from this unlawful practice. The plaintiffs purported to bring the complaint on behalf of all persons who had paid improperly calculated court costs in any Ohio municipal, county, or mayor's court (“statutory courts) during the ten years prior to the filing of the complaint.

{¶ 10} The plaintiffs requested a declaration that court costs may be assessed only once per case rather than once per charge, that the statutory courts had subjected the plaintiffs and members of the class to illegal assessments of costs, and that the class had a right to receive a full refund of those costs. The plaintiffs further requested that the common pleas court permanently enjoin the state from allowing any statutory court to collect court costs per offense in any case. Finally, the plaintiffs requested that the common pleas court order the state to disgorge all illegally assessed costs.

{¶ 11} The plaintiffs later filed a motion for class certification, proposing that the class be defined as “all individuals who paid court costs on or after June 8, 1995 that were improperly calculated on the basis of the number of offenses charged in proceedings before any Ohio municipal court, county court, or mayor's court.”

{¶ 12} The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in September 2006, adding the Ohio Department of the Treasury and appellee, Raymond J. Wohl, Clerk of the Berea Municipal Court, as defendants. The plaintiffs did not add the clerks of the municipal courts in which Lingo and Williams had been sentenced, nor did they name any of the courts or judges. The amended complaint largely repeated the allegations of the original complaint, but additionally asserted that several statutory courts and clerks of court, including Wohl, had transferred portions of the unlawfully collected costs to the state of Ohio and requested equitable disgorgement from all three defendants.

The Answers and Motions for Summary Judgment

{¶ 13} Wohl admitted in his answer that the office of the clerk of the Berea Municipal Court collects costs from defendants pursuant to the court's orders and cost schedules, but denied that the Berea Municipal Court assessed the costs authorized by R.C. 2743.70(A) and 2949.091(A) more than once in any case. Wohl admitted that the municipal court assessed various other costs for each offense charged in a case and asserted that the practice was permitted by R.C. 1901.26.3 Wohl asserted a number of defenses, including res judicata and failure to name indispensable parties.

{¶ 14} The state and treasurer also asserted numerous defenses in their answers and motions, including lack of a live justiciable controversy between the parties named, lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and failure to name all necessary parties. The state entities moved for summary judgment, attaching evidence showing that the courts had assessed only one fee per case for the Ohio general revenue fund, in compliance with R.C. 2949.091(A), and only one fee per case for the Ohio victims-of-crime reparations fund, in compliance with R.C. 2743.70(A), against each of the plaintiffs.

{¶ 15} In December 2006, Wohl filed a motion for summary judgment. The following month, he filed a memorandum in opposition to class certification. Wohl primarily asserted that the plaintiffs were seeking to relitigate final judgments that were never directly appealed and asking the court of common pleas to vacate a portion of those municipal court judgments. In addition, Wohl argued that alleged violators of a criminal statute may not pursue an equitable action asking a court to interfere with the enforcement of that statute, that no private cause of action exists under the statutes cited by the plaintiffs, and that statewide enforcement of statutes is a matter for the Ohio attorney general. Wohl maintained that the plaintiffs had an adequate remedy by way of appeal. Finally, Wohl suggested that the plaintiffs' completion of their sentences rendered any objection moot.

{¶ 16} In February 2007, the plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and a memorandum in opposition to Wohl's motion for...

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