State ex rel. Edwards v. Toledo City School Dist. Bd. of Edn.

Citation72 Ohio St.3d 106,647 N.E.2d 799
Decision Date26 April 1995
Docket NumberNo. 94-2104,94-2104
Parties, 98 Ed. Law Rep. 985 The STATE ex rel. EDWARDS, Appellant, v. TOLEDO CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION et al., Appellees.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio

On July 20, 1994, appellant, Edward Edwards III, filed a complaint in mandamus and declaratory judgment in the Court of Appeals for Lucas County. According to the complaint, Edwards was employed as an elementary school teacher in the Toledo City School District under a limited teaching contract for the 1993-1994 school year. On January 21, 1994, Edwards was discharged because of unsatisfactory teaching evaluations. Edwards alleged in his complaint that appellees, Toledo City School District Board of Education, Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Crystal Ellis, and Toledo Public Schools Treasurer David Nissen, violated various provisions of R.C. Chapter 3319. Edwards further alleged that the board refused to issue a limited contract and left him "without a plain and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law." Edwards requested (1) a writ of mandamus compelling appellees to comply with R.C. Chapter 3319, reinstate him, and award damages, including back pay, and (2) a declaratory judgment as to the rights of parties under the Revised Code.

On August 17, 1994, appellees filed an answer which asserted that a collective bargaining agreement and a supplemental agreement between the board and the teachers' union superseded certain provisions of R.C. Chapter 3319. Appellees further contended that the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction over Edwards's declaratory judgment claim, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and that Edwards possessed an adequate remedy at law via a declaratory judgment action in the appropriate forum.

On the same date that appellees filed their answer, the court of appeals sua sponte dismissed Edwards's complaint on the basis that R.C. 3319.16 provided him with an administrative appeal procedure to address the issues raised in his complaint.

The cause is now before this court upon an appeal as of right.

Dwight A. Washington Co., L.P.A., and Dwight A. Washington, Dayton, for appellant.

Spengler Nathanson, Frank T. Pizza, Theodore M. Rowen and Lisa E. Pizza, Toledo, for appellees.


Edwards asserts in his propositions of law that the court of appeals abused its discretion in sua sponte denying the writ on the basis that R.C. 3319.16 provided him an adequate remedy at law where the pertinent collective bargaining agreement was not before the court.

This court reviews the summary dismissal of a complaint upon a finding of an adequate remedy at law by determining if the court of appeals abused its discretion. State ex rel. Hipp v. N. Canton (1994), 70 Ohio St.3d 102, 103, 637 N.E.2d 317, 318, citing State ex rel. Pressley v. Indus. Comm. (1967), 11 Ohio St.2d 141, 40 O.O.2d 141, 228 N.E.2d 631, paragraph ten of the syllabus. The term "abuse of discretion" connotes more than an error of law or judgment; it implies that the court's attitude is unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable. State ex rel. Cassels v. Dayton City School Dist. Bd. of Edn. (1994), 69 Ohio St.3d 217, 223, 631 N.E.2d 150, 155.

The court of appeals entered its judgment of dismissal based only on Edwards's complaint, without any Civ.R. 12(B) motion before it. Although appellees filed an answer on the same day the court of appeals entered judgment, the court considered only the complaint in its decision. 1

The Rules of Civil Procedure neither expressly permit nor forbid courts to sua sponte dismiss complaints. Generally, a court may dismiss a complaint on its own motion pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(6), failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, only after the parties are given notice of the court's intention to dismiss and an opportunity to respond. Mayrides v. Franklin Cty. Prosecutor's Office (1991), 71 Ohio App.3d 381, 383-384, 594 N.E.2d 48, 50; Prosen v. Dimora (1992), 79 Ohio App.3d 120, 124, 606 N.E.2d 1050, 1052; Besser v. Griffey (1993), 88 Ohio App.3d 379, 623 N.E.2d 1326; Perez v. Ortiz (C.A.2, 1988), 849 F.2d 793, 797-798; Morrison v. Tomano (C.A.6, 1985), 755 F.2d 515, 516-517. However, some courts have recognized an exception to the general rule, allowing sua sponte dismissal without notice where the complaint is frivolous or the claimant obviously cannot possibly prevail on the facts alleged in the complaint. See Baker v. Dir., U.S. Parole Comm. (C.A.D.C.1990), 916 F.2d 725, and English v. Cowell (C.A.7, 1993), 10 F.3d 434, analyzing the similarly worded Fed.R.Civ.P. 12. For the reasons that follow, Edwards's mandamus claim is not frivolous, nor would reversal necessarily be futile.

It is evident that the court of appeals dismissed Edwards's complaint based upon Civ.R. 12(B)(6), i.e., it held that Edwards possessed an adequate legal remedy via R.C. 3319.16, which precluded mandamus relief. In determining whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, all factual allegations of the complaint must be presumed to be true and all reasonable inferences must be made in favor of the nonmoving party. Perez v. Cleveland (1993), 66 Ohio St.3d 397, 399, 613 N.E.2d 199, 200. Additionally, in order to dismiss a complaint under Civ.R. 12(B)(6), it must appear beyond doubt that relator can prove no set of facts warranting relief. State ex rel. Seikbert v. Wilkinson (1994), 69 Ohio St.3d 489, 490, 633 N.E.2d 1128, 1129, citing O'Brien v. Univ. Community Tenants Union, Inc. (1975), 42 Ohio St.2d 242, 71 O.O.2d 223, 327 N.E.2d 753, syllabus.

We have previously noted that Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motions attack the sufficiency of the complaint and may not be used to summarily review the merits of a cause of action in mandamus. State ex rel. Horwitz v. Cuyahoga Cty. Court of Common Pleas, Probate Div. (1992), 65 Ohio St.3d 323, 325, 603 N.E.2d 1005, 1007; Assn. for the Defense of the Washington Local School Dist. v. Kiger (1989), 42 Ohio St.3d 116, 117, 537 N.E.2d 1292, 1293. We have further stated that a claim that a relator possesses an adequate legal remedy precluding a writ of mandamus seeks an adjudication on the merits, which is normally improper in a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) determination. State ex rel. Birdsall v. Stephenson (1994), 68 Ohio St.3d 353, 355, 626 N.E.2d 946, 949. Nevertheless, in other cases, we have affirmed dismissals pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(6) based upon the existence of an adequate remedy at law. State ex rel. Sobczak v. Skow (1990), 49 Ohio St.3d 13, 14, 550 N.E.2d 455, 456; State ex rel. Daggett v. Gessaman (1973), 34 Ohio St.2d 55, 63 O.O.2d 88, 295 N.E.2d 659, paragraph three of the syllabus.

In reconciling this seeming conflict, we interpret the language of Kiger, Horwitz, and Birdsall to be limited to the precept that a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) dismissal based upon the merits is unusual and should be granted with caution, rather than setting forth a new standard. As always, the applicable standard is that set forth in O'Brien, supra. In other words, Civ.R. 12(B)(6) is appropriate in certain cases where "merits" issues are raised. For example, Civ.R. 12(B)(6) dismissal is proper where the claim for mandamus relief arises from a contract which is incorporated in and attached to the complaint, and the contract indicates that the relief requested is not warranted. See 4 Harper, supra, at 345-346, Section 152.12, fn. 8; see, also, 2A Moore's Federal Practice (2 Ed.1994) 12-90 to 12-91, Section 12.07[2.-5] ("material which is submitted as part of the complaint * * * may be considered by the court" [footnotes omitted] under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12[b] ); cf. McCormac, Ohio Civil Rules Practice (2 Ed.1992) 149, Section 6.20 (statute of limitations may be raised by a Civ.R. 12[B] motion where the bar is apparent from the face of the complaint).

Nevertheless, despite the general rule that a plaintiff or relator is not required to prove his or her case at the pleading stage and need only give reasonable notice of the claim, "[i]n a few carefully circumscribed cases, this court has modified the standard for granting a motion to dismiss by requiring that the plaintiff plead operative facts with particularity." York v. Ohio State Hwy. Patrol (1991), 60 Ohio St.3d 143, 145, 573 N.E.2d 1063, 1065, citing Mitchell v. Lawson Milk Co. (1988), 40 Ohio St.3d 190, 532 N.E.2d 753 (employee's intentional tort claim against employer) and Byrd v. Faber (1991), 57 Ohio St.3d 56, 565 N.E.2d 584 (negligent hiring claim against religious institution). These cases have required "fact" rather than "notice" pleading because of important public policy considerations. York, supra, 60 Ohio St.3d at 145, 573 N.E.2d at 1065. We have also required pleading of specific facts in certain mandamus cases involving inmates, see State ex rel. Hickman v. Capots (1989), 45 Ohio St.3d 324, 544 N.E.2d 639; State ex rel. Seikbert, supra; State ex rel. Carter v. Wilkinson (1994), 70 Ohio St.3d 65, 637 N.E.2d 1, and recently, in all original actions, except habeas corpus, filed in this court. S.Ct.Prac.R. X(4)(B) ("All complaints shall contain a specific statement of facts upon which the claim for relief is based * * *."). Similarly, for habeas corpus actions, a petitioner must disclose his claim with particularity in order to avoid dismissal under R.C. 2725.06. Hammond v. Dallman (1992), 63 Ohio St.3d 666, 590 N.E.2d 744.

In the case at bar, Edwards claims that he was wrongfully discharged from his employment as a teacher. The court of appeals dismissed the complaint based on the holding of this court in State ex rel. Webb v. Bryan City School Dist. Bd. of Edn. (1984), 10 Ohio St.3d 27, 32, 10 OBR 178, 183, 460 N.E.2d 1121, 1125 (since R.C. 3319.16 provides administrative and judicial remedies to review a teacher's claim of wrongful discharge, R.C. 3319.16 is an adequate legal remedy precluding mandamus relief). However,...

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