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Fox v. City of Pataskala

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Licking

April 20, 2018

MICHAEL P. FOX Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant
v.
CITY OF PATASKALA Defendant-Appellant Cross-Appellee

          Appeal from the Municipal Court, Case No. 16CVF1748

          For Plaintiff-Appellee SAMANTHA J. BRUSH JAMES D. PERKO, JR.

          For Defendant-Appellant JOHN C. ALBERT

          JUDGES: Hon. John W. Wise, P.J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J. Hon. Earle E. Wise, Jr., J.

          OPINION

          Wise, Earle, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee, The City of Pataskala, appeals the January 25, and August 14, 2017 judgment entries of the Municipal Court of Licking County, Ohio, granting summary judgment and entering a money judgment for attorney fees, respectively, to Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, Michael P. Fox. Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant appeals the August 14, 2017 judgment entry of the trial court denying his motion for attorney fees he incurred in filing the subject case.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         {¶ 2} On November 25, 2013, appellee was served with a letter from appellant's mayor, Stephen Butcher, pursuant to Section 11.01(C) of the city charter, accusing him of committing malfeasance while in office as a member of City Council. The letter listed certain causes for removal, and notified him of a special council meeting scheduled for January 14, 2014, to discuss his removal. Appellee was invited to attend and be heard and present any defenses to the charges.

         {¶ 3} During the January 14th hearing, appellee, along with his counsel, were present. Also present was the new mayor, Michael Compton. Pursuant to the city charter, Mayor Compton was to preside over "meetings." However, Mayor Compton had tried to withdraw the charges against appellee and cancel the hearing back on January 6, 2014. City Council agreed the best course of action was to designate a hearing officer to preside over the proceedings and continue the matter to the next day.

         {¶ 4} During the January 15th hearing, appellee, his counsel, and a hearing officer were present. City Council was informed that the parties had settled the matter and signed an Agreed Order. The parties agreed appellee would apologize for his actions related to the charges, and City Council would issue a public reprimand which was appropriate and sufficient to resolve the matter. City Council also agreed appellee would not be removed from council and the removal proceedings against him were complete.

         {¶ 5} Thereafter, appellee's attorney submitted a bill for attorney fees in defending the matter to appellant pursuant to Section 11.01(G) of the city charter. A detailed bill was requested by appellant and received. The bill went unpaid and accrued interest for non-payment. Eventually, appellee received a collection notice from his attorney.

         {¶ 6} On August 23, 2016, appellee filed a complaint against appellant, seeking an award for the attorney fees he incurred in defending himself against the malfeasance charges. Each party filed motions for summary judgment. Appellant argued removal proceedings never commenced so therefore it was not obligated to pay appellee's attorney fees under the city charter. Appellee argued because he was accused and not removed, appellant was obligated to pay his attorney fees under the city charter. By judgment entry filed January 10, 2017, the trial court denied appellant's motion. By judgment entry filed January 25, 2017, the trial court granted appellee's motion.

         {¶ 7} On April 4, 2017, the parties stipulated as to the amount of damages ($10, 000) in lieu of an evidentiary hearing. Appellant reserved its right to appeal. On same date, appellee filed a motion for the attorney fees he incurred in filing the subject case. A hearing on the motion was held on June 16, 2017.

         {¶ 8} By decision and judgment entry filed August 14, 2017, the trial court awarded appellee as against appellant $10, 000 plus interest and costs, and denied appellee's April 2017 motion for attorney fees.

          {¶ 9} On September 11, 2017, appellant filed an appeal and has ...


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