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Schneider v. Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

April 6, 2017

WILLIAM D. SCHNEIDER, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS
v.
CUYAHOGA COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, ET AL. DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES

         Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-10-717610

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS Avery S. Friedman Avery S. Friedman & Associates

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Dale F. Pelsozy Jennifer Meyer Assistant Prosecuting Attorney The Justice Center

          BEFORE: E.T. Gallagher, J., Kilbane, P.J., and Blackmon, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          EILEEN T. GALLAGHER, JUDGE

         {¶1} Plaintiffs-appellants, William D. Schneider, et al. (collectively "appellants"), appeal from the judgment of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas granting summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees, the Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners, et al.[1] ("collectively the "BOCC"). Appellants raise the following assignments of error for our review:

1. The exhaustion of administrative remedies by the plaintiffs became a futile act in that the decision-makers were participants in the reversal of granting early retirement benefits to all county workers except the plaintiffs who were originally granted benefits by the defendants.
2. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment to defendant-appellees when evidence established a multitude of genuine issues of material fact.
3. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment by apparently disregarding the fact that defendants-appellees reversed themselves by first granting ERIP benefits, then denying ERIP benefits. The reversal establishes an issue of material fact.
4. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment by apparently disregarding the fact of historical grants of senior SED employee participation in ERIP benefits prior to their complaining about corruption by county officials.
5. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment by relying on an affidavit of the attorney for defendants-appellees in determining that no genuine issues of material fact existed even though plaintiffs-appellants submitted evidence to the contrary.
6. The trial court committed reversible error in granting summary judgment by apparently relying on an excerpt of a different proceeding which included the partial testimony of an OPERS employee unrelated to the factual information and controversy involved in this case.

         {¶2} After careful review of the record and relevant case law, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Procedural History

         {¶3} On November 6, 2008, the BOCC passed a resolution establishing a county-wide Early Retirement Incentive Program ("ERIP") in an effort to combat budgetary concerns. As written, the ERIP excluded only one county agency, the Sanitary Engineering Division ("SED"). The SED is a subdivision of the BOCC, created and maintained by the BOCC as an operating division of the County Engineer's Office. But the BOCC created a separate employing unit called the "BOCC, excluding the SED" specifically for the ERIP.

         {¶4} Pursuant to the ERIP's grievance procedure, SED employees, including appellants, filed a grievance on behalf of all SED employees regarding the BOCC's decision to exclude them from participation in the ERIP. SED employees suggested that the BOCC's decision to "revoke" SED's participation in the ERIP was made in retaliation to certain complaints raised by SED employees about workplace conditions. On January 9, 2009, the county administrator held a hearing on the grievance. Approximately 15 SED employees attended the hearing and were given an opportunity to be heard. On January 20, 2009, the county administrator issued a decision denying the grievance request and concluding that the SED would not be allowed to participate in the ERIP. In a letter to plaintiffs, the administrator explained that Cuyahoga County "is facing a very critical financial situation" and "an ERIP in the Sanitary Engineer agency would not have been a cost savings." Following the administrator's decision, none of the SED employees attempted to file an administrative appeal pursuant to R.C. 2506.01.

         {¶5} On December 30, 2009, Teamsters Local Union No. 436 and union member Kevin Lesh (collectively "the union"), filed a taxpayer action against the BOCC, on behalf of all union-member SED employees, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Specifically, the union sought a declaration that the commissioners violated R.C. 145.297 when they authorized the ERIP for all board employees excluding the SED. In addition, the union sought an order compelling the BOCC to include the SED in the ERIP. The union sought similar relief in a separate cause of action for declaratory judgment and in a request for a writ of mandamus in its January 7, 2010 amended complaint. In addition to denying the merits of the union's claims, the BOCC asserted that the union did not have standing to bring its taxpayer action and that it was otherwise barred from requesting equitable remedies because the SED employees had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.

         {¶6} Noting that the union had brought the present action mere days before the ERIP was due to terminate, the trial court denied the union's request for injunctive relief and its action in mandamus, in an entry issued on January 22, 2010. However, the trial court granted the union's prayer for declaratory relief and held that the BOCC's failure to include the SED as part of the "employing unit" that was eligible for the ERIP did not comply with the definition of "employing unit" in R.C. 145.297 and that the commissioners were therefore in violation of the statute.

         {¶7} The commissioners appealed to the this court, which, in a split decision, affirmed the trial court's judgment, finding (1) the union had standing to bring the taxpayer action, (2) the BOCC failed to comply with R.C. 145.297 when it designated "Cuyahoga County, excluding Sanitary Engineering" as the subordinate employing unit, and (3) the union was "not required to exhaust administrative remedies because the [SED employees] were excluded from participating in the ERIP; thus, any attempt to go through an administrative remedy process would have been futile." State ex rel. Teamsters Local Union No. 436 v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Commrs., 194 Ohio App.3d 258, 2011-Ohio-820, 955 N.E.2d 1020 (8th Dist.) ("Teamsters I ").

         {¶8} Subsequently, the Ohio Supreme Court accepted discretionary jurisdiction to hear the BOCC's appeal. State ex rel. Teamsters Local Union No. 436 v. Bd. of County Commrs,132 Ohio St.3d 47, 2012-Ohio-1861, 969 N.E.2d 244("Teamsters II "). On May 1, 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed this court's decision, finding (1) the union lacked standing to bring a taxpayer action because it sought a remedy solely for its own benefit, and (2) "the union and the [SED] employees" failed to exhaust their administrative ...


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