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Clinton v. MetroHealth System

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 1, 2017

KAREN CLINTON PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
METROHEALTH SYSTEM DEFENDANT-APPELLEE

         Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-04-530108

          FOR APPELLANT Karen Clinton, pro se.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor By: Charles E. Hannan Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

          BEFORE: S. Gallagher, P.J., Blackmon, J., and Jones, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          SEAN C. GALLAGHER, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant Karen Clinton, pro se, appeals from the trial court's decision that denied her motion for relief from judgment and her motion to disqualify. Upon review, we affirm the trial court's decision.

         {¶2} In December 2001, Clinton filed a worker's compensation case related to injuries she claimed to have suffered as a result of exposure to toxic fumes from an incinerator incident occurring in 1999 while she was working at MetroHealth System. After the worker's compensation case was resolved, Clinton, through her attorney, requested MetroHealth System's records related to the incinerator incident.

         {¶3} On May 5, 2004, and without receiving the requested documents, Clinton filed a mandamus action against MetroHealth System, Cuyahoga C.P. No. CV-04-530108. Clinton sought to compel production of records under the Ohio Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43, and an award of attorney fees. She also made a claim for forfeiture pursuant to R.C. 149.351 for destruction of public records and sought other relief. MetroHealth System filed a motion for summary judgment, in which it argued that no genuine issues of material fact remained and that the case was moot because it had submitted all the materials Clinton had requested. Clinton filed a motion for partial summary judgment and reserved the issues of damages and attorney fees for trial. Clinton claimed that MetroHealth System had originally possessed some of the requested public records documents but had destroyed them during building renovations. On July 20, 2005, the trial court granted MetroHealth System's motion, and denied Clinton's motion.

         {¶4} The trial court's judgment was affirmed on appeal to this court. Clinton v. MetroHealth Sys., 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 86886, 2006-Ohio-3582 ("Clinton I"). In part, the court found that the incinerator was operated under a "Title V" permit, which required a three-year record retention period. The court held that "not only does the record fail to direct this Court on the tenuous issue of whether additional documentation existed, the record also reflects that since Clinton's [public records] request was untimely, MetroHealth cannot be penalized for any alleged destruction." Id. at ¶ 17-18. Clinton's motion for reconsideration was denied, and no appeal was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.

         {¶5} In April 2010, Clinton filed a second mandamus action against MetroHealth System, upon an expanded public records request, Cuyahoga C.P. No. CV-10-733691. That case also was decided on summary judgment in favor of MetroHealth System and affirmed on appeal in State ex rel. Clinton v. MetroHealth Sys., 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 100590, 2014-Ohio-4469 ("Clinton II"), discretionary appeal not allowed, 142 Ohio St.3d 1465, 2015-Ohio-1896, 30 N.E.3d 974. On May 20, 2015, Clinton filed a motion for relief from judgment in the second mandamus action. That motion was denied, and the ruling was affirmed on appeal in State ex rel. Clinton v. MetroHealth Sys., 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 104685, 2017-Ohio-2855.

         {¶6} Also, on May 20, 2015, Clinton filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B) in the first mandamus action. Additionally, she filed a motion to disqualify the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office from representing MetroHealth System in the Civ.R. 60(B) litigation. Both motions were denied by the trial court. This appeal was taken from those rulings.

         {¶7} Clinton raises six assignments of error for our review. As an initial matter, several of her assignments of error are not related to the trial court's denial of her motions. Rather, her second, third, and fifth assignments of error raise a number of challenges relating to the trial court's 2005 decision in the first mandamus action and this court's decision in Clinton I. Clinton claims, among other assertions, that the trial court should not have granted MetroHealth System's motion for summary judgment and that the ruling was against the manifest weight of the evidence. She claims the decision in Clinton I was erroneous and that a five-year record retention rule, as opposed to a three-year record retention rule, should have applied to her claims. She also challenges certain factual findings that were made. She further claims that certain record requests were not addressed in these earlier decisions. Clinton is precluded by the doctrines of res judicata and the law of the case from raising these arguments herein.

         {¶8} It is well settled that Civ.R. 60(B) cannot be used as a substitute for appeal, in which event the doctrine of res judicata applies. Pilkington N. Am., Inc. v. Toledo Edison Co., 145 Ohio St.3d 125, 2015-Ohio-4797, 47 N.E.3d 786, ¶ 34. The doctrine of res judicata bars claims that were or could have been raised on direct appeal. M & T Bank v. Steel, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 101924, 2015-Ohio-1036, ¶ 13.

         {¶9} Further, the law of the case doctrine precludes a litigant from raising arguments "which were fully pursued, or available to be pursued, in a first appeal." Hubbard ex rel. Creed v. Sauline,74 Ohio St.3d 402, 404-405, 1996-Ohio-174, 659 N.E.2d 781. Pursuant to the doctrine of the law of the case, "the decision of a reviewing court in a case remains the law of that case on the legal questions involved for all subsequent proceedings in the case at both the trial and reviewing levels." Nolan v. Nolan,11 Ohio St.3d 1, 3, 462 N.E.2d 410 (1984). The doctrine has been deemed necessary "to ensure consistency of results in a case, to avoid ...


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