State ex rel. Belle Tire Distribs., Inc. v. Indus. Comm'n of Ohio

Decision Date05 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 2016–1839,2016–1839
Citation154 Ohio St.3d 488,116 N.E.3d 102,2018 Ohio 2122
Parties The STATE EX REL. BELLE TIRE DISTRIBUTORS, INC., Appellant, v. INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION OF OHIO et al., Appellees.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Licata Law Group and David J. Kovach, Independence, for appellant.

Michael DeWine, Attorney General, and Eric J. Tarbox, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee Industrial Commission.

Emil G. Gravelle III and Megan E. Burke, Toledo, for appellee Judy Melroy.

Per Curiam.

{¶ 1} Appellant, Belle Tire Distributors, Inc., filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus in the Tenth District Court of Appeals challenging appellee Industrial Commission's determination that it had continuing jurisdiction to reconsider a previous order denying a claim for death benefits because of a clear mistake of fact regarding how the decedent worker died.

{¶ 2} The court of appeals granted a motion to dismiss filed by appellee Judy Melroy on the basis that Belle Tire had a plain and adequate remedy at law—the right to appeal to a court of common pleas pursuant to R.C. 4123.512.

{¶ 3} For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals, and we remand the matter for that court to address the merits of Belle Tire's mandamus claim.

{¶ 4} Herbert Melroy was employed by Belle Tire on November 19, 2014, the day he died. His surviving spouse, Judy Melroy, filed a claim for death benefits with the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. The bureau determined that the decedent's death was not work related and denied the claim.

{¶ 5} Melroy appealed the bureau's denial to the Industrial Commission. A district hearing officer vacated the order and allowed the claim.

{¶ 6} Belle Tire then appealed. A staff hearing officer vacated the district hearing officer's order, finding that Melroy had failed to prove that the decedent's death occurred in the course of and arose out of his employment. The staff hearing officer denied the claim, and the commission refused to hear Melroy's appeal.

{¶ 7} Melroy then asked the commission to reconsider its order. Pursuant to R.C. 4123.52, the commission has continuing jurisdiction over a case and may modify or change its former findings or orders if the commission finds that a change is justified. Continuing jurisdiction is not unlimited; a party seeking to invoke the commission's continuing jurisdiction must show (1) new and changed circumstances, (2) fraud, (3) a clear mistake of fact or law, or (4) an error by an inferior tribunal. State ex rel. Nicholls v. Indus. Comm. , 81 Ohio St.3d 454, 459, 692 N.E.2d 188 (1998).

{¶ 8} The commission concluded that it had continuing jurisdiction to reconsider the staff hearing officer's order because the order had been based on a clear mistake of fact. On reconsideration, the commission allowed the claim for death benefits on its merits.

{¶ 9} Belle Tire filed this mandamus action alleging that the commission abused its discretion when it concluded that the staff hearing officer's order contained a clear mistake of fact that justified exercising continuing jurisdiction. Belle Tire alleged that the commission had a clear legal duty to deny the request for reconsideration and to affirm the staff hearing officer's order denying the claim.

{¶ 10} Belle Tire also appealed the order granting death benefits to the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, pursuant to R.C. 4123.512. At the request of Belle Tire, the common pleas court stayed that proceeding pending a decision by the Tenth District in the mandamus action.

{¶ 11} Melroy filed a motion to dismiss in the court of appeals pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B). Relying on State ex rel. Alhamarshah v. Indus. Comm ., 142 Ohio St.3d 524, 2015-Ohio-1357, 33 N.E.3d 43, and State ex rel. Johnson v. Ohio State Univ. Cancer Research Hosp ., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 14AP-430, 2015-Ohio-3249, 2015 WL 4760677, Melroy argued that Belle Tire had an adequate remedy at law in the form of its R.C. 4123.512 appeal.

{¶ 12} The court of appeals agreed with Melroy's argument and dismissed the action, concluding that the commission's decision to exercise its continuing jurisdiction was appealable to the court of common pleas pursuant to R.C. 4123.512.

{¶ 13} Belle Tire's appeal of the judgment granting Melroy's motion to dismiss is now before this court.

Melroy's Motion to Dismiss this Appeal

{¶ 14} As an initial matter, we address Melroy's motion to dismiss Belle Tire's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Melroy maintains that Belle Tire has an adequate remedy at law that it exercised when it filed an appeal in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas in 2016.

{¶ 15} This court has jurisdiction over this appeal of right from the court of appeals' judgment pursuant to Ohio Constitution, Article IV, Section 2 (B)(2)(i). Therefore, dismissal is unwarranted. We deny Melroy's motion.

Merits of the Appeal

{¶ 16} We review the court of appeals' decision granting Melroy's motion to dismiss the complaint filed below. That court concluded that Melroy had an adequate remedy at law by way of appeal pursuant to R.C. 4123.512 and dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for relief.

{¶ 17} "A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is procedural and tests the sufficiency of the complaint." State ex rel. Hanson v. Guernsey Cty. Bd. of Commrs. , 65 Ohio St.3d 545, 548, 605 N.E.2d 378 (1992). A court may grant a motion to dismiss only when the complaint, when construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and presuming all the factual allegations in the complaint are true, demonstrates that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to relief. Mitchell v. Lawson Milk Co. , 40 Ohio St.3d 190, 192, 532 N.E.2d 753 (1988).

{¶ 18} In its complaint for a writ of mandamus, Belle Tire challenged the final order of the commission, which adjudicated two issues: whether the commission could exercise its continuing jurisdiction pursuant to R.C. 4123.52 to reconsider a previous order that denied Melroy's claim for death benefits and whether Melroy is entitled to benefits because of the death of her husband. The commission's decision to exercise continuing jurisdiction is reviewable in mandamus, under an abuse-of-discretion standard, State ex rel. Saunders v. Metal Container Corp. , 52 Ohio St.3d 85, 556 N.E.2d 168 (1990), while a decision to allow a claim, which involves the right to participate in the workers' compensation system, is reviewable in an appeal to the court of common pleas pursuant to R.C. 4123.512.

{¶ 19} The question whether a party must file an appeal in common pleas court or file a petition for a writ of mandamus is an often litigated one. It is often difficult to distinguish between appealable right-to-participate orders and other orders that are nonappealable. State ex rel. Liposchak v. Indus. Comm. , 90 Ohio St.3d 276, 278–279, 737 N.E.2d 519 (2000). The issue is before this court once again—does Belle Tire's complaint state a claim for mandamus relief or does Belle Tire have an adequate remedy at law in the form of an appeal pursuant to R.C. 4123.512 ?

{¶ 20} Belle Tire argues that R.C. 4123.512 does not afford a remedy to challenge the commission's exercise of continuing jurisdiction and that an appeal under that section is not a plain and adequate remedy at law sufficient to defeat mandamus jurisdiction. According to Belle Tire, an R.C. 4123.512 appeal focuses on a different issue—the right to participate or to continue to participate in the workers' compensation system—and does not afford the challenging party the opportunity to correct the errors committed below when the commission has invoked continuing jurisdiction pursuant to R.C. 4123.52.

{¶ 21} Belle Tire maintains that it should have the opportunity to challenge the commission's exercise of continuing jurisdiction because, in the event that the commission abused its discretion in doing so, the previous order denying the claim would remain in effect—placing the responsibility for filing an appeal on the claimant without the benefit of receiving ongoing compensation payments from the employer throughout the process. Belle Tire asks this court to overrule Alhamarshah , the decision on which the court of appeals relied, emphasizing that Alhamarshah did not explain why an R.C. 4123.512 appeal provided an adequate remedy in that case. Belle Tire also asks this court to overrule State ex rel. Carroll v. Galion Assisted Living, Ltd., 149 Ohio St.3d 326, 2016-Ohio-8117, 75 N.E.3d 140, which relied on Alhamarshah .

{¶ 22} In response, Melroy argues that an R.C. 4123.512 appeal is a plain and adequate remedy because it is complete, beneficial, and effective and will give finality by ultimately deciding whether the claim for death benefits should be allowed. According to Melroy, because the right to participate is the ultimate decision being challenged, the court of appeals has no jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus when there is an adequate remedy at law through an R.C. 4123.512 appeal. Both the commission and Melroy maintain that Alhamarshah and Carroll were correctly decided and that those decisions preclude Belle Tire from obtaining relief in mandamus.

{¶ 23} To understand the issue in this case, it is important to consider the differences between an R.C. 4123.512 appeal and a mandamus claim challenging a decision of the Industrial Commission.

{¶ 24} R.C. 4123.512 authorizes a claimant or an employer to appeal an order of the commission to a court of common pleas when the order grants or denies the right to participate in the workers' compensation system. Liposchak , 90 Ohio St.3d at 278–279, 737 N.E.2d 519. This question involves only "whether an employee's injury, disease, or death occurred in the course of and arising out of his or her employment." Id. at 279, 737 N.E.2d 519. Once the right to participate for a specific condition is recognized, no subsequent rulings in the proceeding are appealable except one that...

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