Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler
MICHELLE L. LANGDON, Appellee,
OHIO DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Appellant.
APPEAL FROM BUTLER COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS Case No.
Law Firm, LLC, Christopher P. Finney, Brian C. Shrive, for
Michael DeWine, Ohio Attorney General, Hannah Stoneburner and
Anna M. Seidensticker, Education Section, for appellant
1} Appellant, the Ohio Department of Education,
appeals a decision of the Butler County Court of Common
Pleas, reversing the Department of Education's decision
to deny appellee, Michelle Langdon, her teaching license
while permitting reapplication in 2018 after evaluation and
2} Langdon worked as a licensed professional
intervention specialist with the Lakota School District as a
teacher of disabled high school students. In 2013, Langdon
was placed on paid administrative leave while the school
investigated "professional conduct concerns." She
was provided a letter by the school informing her that she
could be represented at a fact-finding conference to address
these concerns. Prior to any formal decision or action by the
school following the fact-finding conference, Langdon
irrevocably resigned her position for "personal
reasons." Langdon then allowed her license to lapse.
3} Langdon applied to renew her license in 2014 and
the Department of Education, through the Ohio Board of
Education ("the Board"), charged Langdon with eight
instances of conduct unbecoming a teacher. The Board stated
its intent to consider whether to limit, suspend, revoke, or
permanently revoke or deny her pending application. The
Department of Education sent Langdon a letter with the eight
charges, asserting that Langdon (1) made unprofessional and
inappropriate comments about students, staff, and parents,
(2) made unprofessional posts on social media pertaining to
her workplace, (3) revealed details of a student's
Individualized Education Program ("IEP") to other
parents and students, (4) made inappropriate physical contact
with students, (5) used marijuana and asked for marijuana to
be delivered on school property, (6) created a hostile
learning and working environment for students, staff, and
parents, (7) failed to follow IEP instructions for students,
and (8) referred to a private nurse working with a student
within the school as a "big, gross, disgusting
4} The Department of Education also notified Langdon
that she was entitled to a hearing if she requested one
within 30 days. Langdon timely requested a hearing through
retained counsel. At the conclusion of a seven-day hearing,
both parties submitted written closing arguments with Langdon
alleging she was denied due process.
5} The hearing officer issued findings of facts and
conclusions of law, which were lengthy and detailed.
Specifically addressed was Langdon's claim that she was
denied due process, and the hearing officer made an express
finding that the Department of Education's notice
provided due process and that Langdon "fully
participated in the prehearing process" during which
time Langdon was permitted to address comments, questions, or
concerns. Also during this time, the parties exchanged
discovery, including witness lists and exhibits. At the
hearing itself, Langdon presented 11 witnesses and 27
exhibits during the seven-day hearing.
6} The hearing officer found that Langdon had
engaged in conduct unbecoming a teacher in violation of R.C.
3319.31(B)(1) on five of the six grounds pursued by the
Department of Education, and recommended that her
then-expired license be revoked, her pending application for
licensure be denied, and she not be permitted to reapply for
a license for at least five years.
7} Langdon filed objections to the hearing
officer's recommendations with the Board. The Board
adopted all of the hearing officer's findings and
conclusions, but reduced the sanctions such that Langdon
would be permitted to reapply for licensure on or after July
1, 2018 provided that prior to reapplication, Langdon
complete a fitness to teach evaluation and complete eight
hours of anger management training.
8} Langdon then appealed the Board's decision to
the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, arguing she was
prejudiced by a lack of due process and that the Board's
findings and conclusions were not supported by reliable,
probative, and substantial evidence. The common pleas court
agreed and reversed the Board's decision. The Department
of Education now appeals the common pleas court's
decision raising the following assignments of error. Given
that many of the arguments are interrelated, we will address
several assignments of error together.
9} Assignment of Error No. 1:
10} THE COMMON PLEAS COURT ERRED WHEN IT FOUND THAT
THE APPELLEE WAS NOT AFFORDED DUE PROCESS UNDER THE LAW.
11} Assignment of Error No. 2:
12} THE COMMON PLEAS COURT ERRED WHEN IT APPLIED THE
WRONG LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR SUFFICIENT PREHEARING NOTICE OF
THE ALLEGATIONS UNDER R.C. 119.
13} Assignment of Error No. 3:
14} THE COMMON PLEAS COURT ERRED BY RULING THAT THE
BOARD WAS REQUIRED BUT FAILED TO PROVIDE NOTICE OF THE
SPECIFIC INDIVIDUALS ASSERTING ALLEGATIONS AGAINST LANGDON IN
COUNTS 1, 3, AND 6.
15} Assignment of Error No. 4:
16} THE COMMON PLEAS COURT ERRED WHEN IT RULED THAT
'CONDUCT UNBECOMING' IN R.C. 3319.31(B)(1) IS NOT
CLEARLY DEFINED SO AS TO AFFORD DUE PROCESS OF LAW.
17} The Department of Education's first four
assignments of error argue that the common pleas court erred
in determining that Langdon was not afforded due process.
18} "The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no
State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property,
without due process of law." Troxel v.
Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054 (2000). Ohio
also guarantees this right within its Due Process and
Remedies Clauses, Section 16, Article I of the Ohio
Constitution. The essential components of due process are
notice, hearing, and the opportunity to be heard before a
competent tribunal. Denier v. Carnes-Denier, 12th
Dist. Warren Nos. CA2016-02-012 and CA2016-04-022, 2017-
Ohio-334. Opportunity must be afforded the parties in
appropriate cases to defend, enforce or protect their rights
through presentation of their own evidence, confrontation and
cross-examination of adverse witnesses, and oral argument.
19} Procedural due process is a fluid concept; that
is "the concept of due process is flexible and varies
depending on the importance attached to the interest and the
particular circumstances under which the depravation may
occur." Ohio v. Hochhausler, 76 Ohio St.3d 455,
459 (1996). Constitutional due process requires that one be
advised of the charges and have a reasonable opportunity to
meet them by way of a defense or explanation. First Bank
v. Mascrete, 125 Ohio App.3d 257 (4th Dist.1998).
20} In order to comply with due process
requirements, notice must be given sufficiently in advance of
scheduled court proceedings so that reasonable opportunity to
prepare will be afforded, and it must "set forth the
alleged misconduct with particularity." State ex
rel. Johnson v. Perry Cty. Court, 25 Ohio St.3d 53, 58
(1986). Consequently, procedural due process requires
administrative agencies to give fair notice of the precise
nature of the charges at issue in the disciplinary action.
Edmands v. State Med. Bd. of Ohio, 10th Dist.
Franklin No. 14AP-778, 2015-Ohio-2658.
21} Ohio courts have utilized the test articulated
by the United States Supreme Court to analyze whether due
process is satisfied in an administrative context.
Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893
(1976). According to Mathews, a court must weigh the
following three factors to determine whether the process
given in the administrative proceeding is satisfactory: (1)
the private interest at stake, (2) the risk of an erroneous
deprivation of that interest and the probable value of
additional procedural safeguards, and (3) the
government's interest, including the function involved
and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional
or substitute procedural requirements would entail.
Id. at 335.
22} While an appellate court's review of a
common pleas court's decision regarding agency decisions
usually includes an abuse of discretion standard, issues
relating to constitutionality and procedural due process
arising from an agency's action are subject to a less
deferential standard of review, as they are questions of law
and thus are subject to a de novo standard of review by an
appellate court. Krusling v. Ohio Bd. of Pharm.,
12th Dist. Clermont No. CA2012-03-023, 2012-Ohio-5356, ¶
23} According to R.C. 119.07, Langdon was entitled
to notice that included "the charges or other reasons
for the proposed action, the law or rule directly involved,
and a statement informing the party that the party is
entitled to a hearing* * *and that at the hearing the party
may present evidence and exam ine witnesses appearing for and
against the party."
24} The record indicates that Langdon was afforded
due process regarding her licensure request and the
Board's ultimate denial of such. The notice included the
eight specific charges that the Department of Education
levied against Langdon with specific details that would allow
her to understand and defend against the charges. The notice
also informed Langdon of her right to a hearing as required
by R.C. 119.07.
25} Specifically, the eight charges were stated in
the notice as follows:
1. During the 2012/2013 school year, while employed at the
Lakota Local School District, you made unprofessional,
inappropriate and critical comments during school hours about
students, staff, and parents, including but not limited to:
Students 1, 2 and 3; staff members Michelle Hammond, Kim
Crawford and Mike Nicholas; and parents of students 1 and 2.
You made these comments to school staff members and students.
2. From 2007 through 2013, while employed at the Lakota Local
School District, you exhibited a pattern of writing
unprofessional posts about your workplace on your personal
social media account.
3. During a school fire drill on or about October 2013, you
exited the building with Student 4, displaying a copy of her
IEP and complaining loudly about certain details contained in
it. Your comments, which were overheard by Student 4, other
students, school staff and parents, were demeaning to Student
4 and constitute an inappropriate breach of confidentiality.
4. During your employment at the Lakota Local School
District, from 2008 through the 2013 school year, you were
inappropriately physical with students. You frightened and
upset Student 1 when you grabbed and tore his hand away from
student aide, Melissa Meyer. You grabbed Student 5's
wrist very hard and yanked/jerked her hand causing pain. You
grabbed student 6's wrist/hand very hard and jerked her
over to a chair. Once at the chair, you put your hands on
Student 6's shoulders and pushed her down hard into the
5. From 2007 through 2010, while employed at the Lakota Local
School District, you used an illegal substance, namely
marijuana, on more than one occasion. You asked a coworker to
provide you the marijuana, including one occasion when you
instructed the coworker to bring the marijuana to school and
put it in your car, which was parked on school property.
6. During your employment at the Lakota Local School
District, you exhibited a pattern of inappropriate conduct
that created a negative and hostile learning and work
environment at the school for both students and staff. In
particular, you yelled at students 1 through 6 and berated,
bullied, and made fun of students 1 through 6, staff members,
and the parents of Students 1 and 2.
7. From August 2013 through September 2013, while employed at
the Lakota Local School District, you did not follow the IEP
for Student 2. Although Student 2's IEP indicated that he
was not to be kept in his wheelchair for long periods of
time, you kept him in his wheelchair for most of the class
period and did not allow him out of his wheelchair on a
8. During the 2012 and 2013 school year, you referred to a
private nurse within the school, Ms. Crawford, as a big,
gross, disgusting wildebeest.
26} The Superintendent of Public Instruction
included a student key with the notice so that Langdon could
identify by name the six students listed in the counts above.
The record indicates that Langdon received the notice by
certified mail, and thus had specific details as to which
students were addressed in the charges.
27} The record demonstrates that fair notice of the
precise charges at issue were given within the notice
received by Langdon. Langdon argued, and the common pleas court
agreed, that some of the dates given in the notice were not
correct, and that such resulted in a lack of precise nature
of the charges. However, the record is clear that the notice
identified each student by name once connected to his or her
designated number in the provided key. Each staff member or
co-worker against whom Langdon made inappropriate comments
was also named in the charges. Therefore, details exist
within each count, regardless of date, that allowed Langdon
to determine what specific instance was being addressed and
what details created the basis for alleging conduct
unbecoming a teacher. Given that Langdon herself knew when
she was employed with the school, she knew when opportunity
for contact with each of the named six students
28} The due process standard does not require that
the allegations pinpoint the exact date and time when an
alleged incident was to have occurred. It is well-settled in
constitutional law jurisprudence that due process
requirements require only fair notice; not perfect notice.
There is no indication in the record that Langdon was not
able to respond to the charges based on the dates included in
the notice, or that she was unaware of the charges because
more specific dates were not included. In fact, Langdon
mounted a fervent and focused defense to the Department of
Education's allegations, which centered on denials,
counter-witnesses, and explanations rather than a defense
dependent upon a particular date.
29} As will be discussed later, Langdon successfully
defended the Department of Education's allegations in
several respects, as the hearing officer determined that one
charge was unsubstantiated, and several components within
other charges were not proven. Although some of the specific
dates were not listed in the notice, such did not turn the
otherwise fair notice into one that failed to provide due
process. The record demonstrates Langdon knew the nature of
the charges against her and she was able to reasonably
respond to the charges in her defense.
30} The record further demonstrates that Langdon was
well-aware of the precise instances of alleged conduct
unbecoming a teacher, as she presented evidence or testimony
specific to the instances, cross-examined the Department of
Education's witnesses, and also made detailed arguments
as to why each charge was not an instance of conduct
unbecoming. There is no indication in the record that the
notice letter Langdon received failed to give a fair notice
of the charges against her.
31} For example, as revealed in the transcript,
Langdon's attorney questioned Langdon on the substance of
the charges sequentially. Langdon's counsel would make
reference to the charge and then ask pointed and specific
questions. The hearing officer remarked upon the organized
flow of the testimony as being in order with the charges. If
Langdon was unware of the ...