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State ex rel. Bratenahl v. Village of Bratenahl

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

November 9, 2017

STATE OF OHIO EX REL. MORE BRATENAHL, ET AL.RELATORS-APPELLANTS
v.
VILLAGE OF BRATENAHL, OHIO, ET AL. RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

         Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-16-857888.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Christopher P. Finney Finney Law Firm, L.L.C.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE David J. Matty Mark B. Marong Shana Samson Matty Henrikson & Greve, L.L.C.

          BEFORE: Kilbane, J., Keough, A.J., and McCormack, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          MARY EILEEN KILBANE, J.

         {¶1} Relator-appellant, state of Ohio ex rel. Patricia Meade ("Meade"), appeals from the trial court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of respondents-appellees, the village of Bratenahl ("Bratenahl"), Mayor John Licastro, and Councilmembers Mary Beckenbach, James Puffenberger, Erin Smith, Geoffrey Williams, and Marla Murphy (collectively referred to as "Bratenahl Councilmembers"). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         {¶2} In January 2016, Meade, a Bratenahl resident, and State ex rel. MORE Bratenahl, a community news publication disseminated by Meade, filed a complaint against Bratenahl and its councilmembers (collectively referred to as "Bratenahl respondents") alleging that they violated or threatened to violate various provisions of Ohio's Open Meetings Act ("OMA") by casting secret ballots when selecting the Bratenahl Council President pro tempore in January 2015.[1] The OMA, which is popularly known as the Sunshine Law, mandates that all meetings of any public body are to be public meetings open to the public at all times. R.C. 121.22(C). Meade sought injunctive relief and an award of civil forfeiture and attorney fees.

         {¶3} In April 2016, Meade filed an amended complaint, naming Bratenahl Mayor John Licastro as a respondent and adding three counts that expanded on the alleged violations of the OMA. Count 2 alleged that Licastro, Murphy, Puffenberger, and Williams threatened to violate the OMA by failing to keep and maintain minutes of the Bratenahl Council Finance Committee for the meetings held on January 19, 2016, February 16, 2016, March 14, 2016, and April 18, 2016. In Counts 3 and 4, Meade alleges that Bratenahl Council conducted public business in illegal executive sessions in violation of the OMA on August 19, 2015 (Count 3) and November 19, 2014 (Count 4).[2]

         {¶4} Meade sought a declaratory judgment that the Bratenahl Councilmembers violated or threatened to violate the OMA and sought an injunction prohibiting the councilmembers from conducting any votes by secret ballot, unless authorized by Ohio law, and mandating all defendants to maintain and prepare accurate council meeting minutes. Meade further sought a civil forfeiture fee of $500 for each distinct violation or threatened violation of the OMA, as well as court costs and attorney fees.

         {¶5} In September 2016, Meade moved for summary judgment. In her motion, Meade alleges the following three separate violations or threatened violations of the OMA by the Bratenahl respondents:

(i) using secret ballots to conduct official business of [Bratenahl Council];
(ii) failing to keep and maintain minutes of the [Bratenahl Council Finance Committee, ] which contain sufficient facts and information so as to permit the public to understand and appreciate the rationale behind the Committee's actions; and
(iii) during the course of a public meeting [Bratenahl Council] held on August 19, 2015, conducting public business of the Council in an illegal executive session and/or entering in such executive session in violation of the requirements of the [OMA].

         {¶6} The Bratenahl respondents opposed Meade's motion for summary judgment and filed their own cross-motion for summary judgment. In their motion, the Bratenahl respondents argued that Meade failed to meet her burden of persuasion by a preponderance of the evidence that they violated or threatened to violate the OMA.

         {¶7} In December 2016, the trial court denied Meade's motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the Bratenahl respondents.

         {¶8} It is from this order that Meade appeals, raising the following two assignments of error, which shall be discussed together:

         Assignment of Error One

         The trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of [the Bratenahl respondents].

         Assignment ...


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