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State ex rel. TRI Eagle fuels L.L.C. v. Dawson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

July 26, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, EX REL. TRI EAGLE FUELS L.L.C. RELATOR
v.
WILLIAM DAWSON, JUDGE EAST CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL COURT RESPONDENT

          Writ of Prohibition Motion No. 512401 Order No. 518329

          ATTORNEYS FOR RELATOR T. CHRISTOPHER O'CONNELL JAMIE M. SYX SINGERMAN, MILLS, DESBERG & KAUNTZ CO., L.P.A.

          FOR EUCLID LAKE PROPERTIES, L.L.C., GIANT PETROLEUM, INC., AND RANIA NAJJAR BRADLEY HULL IV

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT WILLA M. HEMMONS LAW DIRECTOR CITY OF EAST CLEVELAND

          JUDGMENT

          MARY J. BOYLE, JUDGE.

         {¶1} On November 30, 2017, the relator, Tri Eagle Fuels, Inc. commenced this prohibition action against the respondent, East Cleveland Municipal Court Judge William Dawson, to prevent the judge from adjudicating the underlying case, Euclid Lake Properties, L.L.C. v. Tri Eagle Fuels, L.L.C., East Cleveland M.C. No. 17CVG 0100, a forcible entry and detainer action. Tri Eagle argues that the jurisdictional-priority rule prevents the respondent judge from adjudicating the underlying case. This court issued an alternative writ prohibiting the respondent from adjudicating the case until further order from this court and to show cause why a permanent writ of prohibition should not issue.[1] This court also allowed the landlords, Euclid Lake Properties, L.L.C. and Giant Petroleum, Inc. to intervene. Tri Eagle has moved for summary judgment, the respondent has filed his brief in opposition, the intervenors have filed their brief in opposition, and the relator has filed a reply brief. This court has reviewed the filings, the briefs, and the evidence submitted, and concludes that this matter is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, this court denies the relator's motion for summary judgment, denies the application for a writ of prohibition, and dissolves the alternative writs.

         {¶2} As gleaned from the filings and the attachments, in late July 2015, Tri Eagle entered into a contract with Giant Petroleum to purchase the assets, including a liquor permit, for a gas station and convenience store at 12436 Euclid Avenue, in East Cleveland, Ohio. On the same day, Tri Eagle entered into a 15-year lease of 12436 Euclid Avenue with the landlord, Euclid Lake Properties LL.C./Giant Petroleum, Inc. In the summer of 2017, disputes arose between the parties concerning the condition of the rented premises. Giant Petroleum asserted that Tri Eagle was not maintaining the premises, e.g., leaks in the roof, high grass and growing shrubs, holes in the asphalt, and trash around the premises. Additionally, there had been "an incident" in August 2017, that had damaged the building, and Giant Petroleum had considered the repairs as insufficient and leaving the premises in a dangerous condition. The landlord demanded that Tri Eagle "fix" the premises; if the problems were not fixed, then Tri Eagle would be in default of the lease. In response, Tri Eagle maintained that it has fulfilled its duties under the lease keeping the premises in the same condition as when it had entered into possession; many of the complained problems were preexisting. Additionally, the landlords were not paying the property taxes.

         {¶3} Unsatisfied with this response, on October 4, 2017, Euclid Lake Properties, L.L.C/Giant Petroleum, Inc., declared Tri Eagle to be in default of the lease and issued the three-day notice to vacate. On October 6, 2017, Tri Eagle commenced Tri Eagle Fuels, L.L.C. v. Euclid Lake Properties L.L.C. & Giant Petroleum, Inc., Cuyahoga C.P. No. CV-17-887038, and alleged claims for breach of contract for improperly claiming defaults and not paying the property taxes, anticipatory breach of contract, promissory estoppel, tortious interference with business relations, and breach of the assets purchase contract. Service was completed on October 11, 2017. On the next day, October 12, 2017, the landlords commenced the underlying case. On October 31, 2017, in the common pleas case, the landlords filed their answer and counterclaims for breach of contract, ejectment, declaratory judgment that the lease is terminated, and "negligence with willful and wanton misconduct."

         {¶4}Tri Eagle then commenced this prohibition action arguing that the jurisdictional-priority rule deprives the respondent judge of the jurisdiction to adjudicate the underlying case.

         {¶5} The principles governing prohibition are well established. Its requisites are (1) the respondent against whom it is sought is about to exercise judicial power, (2) the exercise of such power is unauthorized by law, and (3) there is no adequate remedy at law. State ex rel Largent v. Fisher, 43 Ohio St.3d 160, 540 N.E.2d 239 (1989). Prohibition will not lie unless it clearly appears that the court has no jurisdiction of the cause that it is attempting to adjudicate or the court is about to exceed its jurisdiction. State ex rel. Ellis v. McCabe, 138 Ohio St. 417, 35 N.E.2d 571 (1941), paragraph three of the syllabus. "The writ will not issue to prevent an erroneous judgment, or to serve the purpose of appeal, or to correct mistakes of the lower court in deciding questions within its jurisdiction." State ex rel. Sparto v. Juvenile Court of Darke Cty., 153 Ohio St. 64, 65, 90 N.E.2d 598 (1950). Furthermore, it should be used with great caution and not issue in a doubtful case. State ex rel. Merion v. Tuscarawas Cty. Court of Common Pleas, 137 Ohio St. 273, 28 N.E.2d 641 (1940); and Reiss v. Columbus Mun. Court, 76 Ohio Law Abs. 141, 145 N.E.2d 447 (10th Dist.1956). Nevertheless, when a court is patently and unambiguously without jurisdiction to act whatsoever, the availability or adequacy of a remedy is immaterial to the issuance of a writ of prohibition. State ex rel. Tilford v. Crush, 39 Ohio St.3d 174, 529 N.E.2d 1245 (1988); and State ex rel. Csank v. Jaffe, 107 Ohio App.3d 387, 668 N.E.2d 996 (8th Dist.1995). However, absent such a patent and unambiguous lack of jurisdiction, a court having general jurisdiction of the subject matter of an action has authority to determine its own jurisdiction. A party challenging the court's jurisdiction has an adequate remedy at law via an appeal from the court's holding that it has jurisdiction. State ex rel. Rootstown Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. Portage Cty. Court of Common Pleas, 78 Ohio St.3d 489, 678 N.E.2d 1365 (1997). Moreover, this court has discretion in issuing the writ of prohibition. State ex rel. Gilligan v. Hoddinott, 36 Ohio St.2d 127, 304 N.E.2d 382 (1973).

         {¶6} Similarly, the principles of the jurisdictional-priority rule are also well established. This rule provides that "[a]s between [state] courts of concurrent jurisdiction, the tribunal whose power is first invoked by the institution of proper proceedings acquires jurisdiction, to the exclusion of all tribunals, to adjudicate upon the whole issue and to settle the rights of the parties." State ex rel Dannaher v. Crawford, 78 Ohio St.3d 391, 393, 678 N.E.2d 549 (1997); quoting State ex rel. Racing Guild of Ohio v. Morgan 17 Ohio St.3d 54, 56, 476 N.E.2d 1060 (1985); and State ex rel Phillips v. Polcar, 50 Ohio St.2d 279, 364 N.E.2d 33 (1977), syllabus. Furthermore, "it is a condition of the operation of the state jurisdictional priority rule that the claims or causes of action be the same in both cases, and '[i]f the second case is not for the same cause of action, nor between the same parties, the former suit will not prevent the latter.'" Crawford at 393, quoting State ex rel. Sellers v. Gerken, 72 Ohio St.3d 115, 117, 1995-Ohio-247, 647 N.E.2d 807 and State ex rel. Judson v. Spahr, 33 Ohio St.3d 111, 113, 515 N.E.2d 911 (1987).

         {¶7} Nonetheless, the rule may apply even if the causes of action and requested relief are not identical. Sellers and State ex rel. Otten v. Henderson, 129 Ohio St.3d 453, 2011-Ohio-4082, 953 N.E.2d 809. That is, if the claims in both cases are such that each of the actions comprise part of the "whole issue" that is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the court whose power is legally first invoked, the jurisdictional-priority rule may be applicable. The determination of whether the two cases involve the "whole issue" or matter requires a two-step analysis: "First, there must be cases pending in two different courts of concurrent jurisdiction involving substantially the same parties. Second, the ruling of the court subsequently acquiring jurisdiction may affect or interfere with the resolution of the issues before the court where suit was originally commenced." Michaels Bldg Co. v. Cardinal Fed. S & L. Bank, 54 Ohio App.3d 180, 183, 561 N.E.2d 1015 (8th Dist.1988); and Tri State Group, Inc. v. Metcalf & Eddy of Ohio, Inc., 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 92660, 2009-Ohio-3902.

         {¶8} Tri Eagle argues that its common pleas case was commenced first when service was made the day before the forcible entry and detainer action was filed. The suits are between the same parties. The ejectment claim and the forcible entry and detainer claim are nearly identical, and the resolution of the forcible entry and detainer action would necessarily impinge on the resolution of the common pleas case. Both suits are part of the whole issue. Therefore, Tri Eagle concludes that the jurisdictional-priority rule deprives the respondent judge of jurisdiction to adjudicate the forcible entry and detainer action.

         {¶9} Aside from cases stating the principles of the jurisdictional-priority rule, Tri Eagle relies upon Stratton v. Robey,70 Ohio App.2d 4, 433 N.E.2d 938 (10th Dist.1980). In that case, the parties had entered into a land contract in 1977. Two years later the seller filed a complaint in Franklin County Common Pleas Court requesting forfeiture of defendant's rights in the land. Subsequently, the seller commenced a forcible entry and detainer action in Franklin County Municipal Court and obtained an eviction. On appeal, the Tenth District reversed, ruling that the initial action brought pursuant to R.C. 5313.08 deprived the municipal court of jurisdiction under the jurisdictional priority rule. Ashtabula Cty. Airport Auth. v. Rich, 11th Dist. Ashtabula No. 2013-A-0069, 2014-Ohio-4288, also supports Tri Eagle's position. In that case, Rich leased hangar space from the Airport Authority. When the Authority threatened to evict Rich for not abiding by the terms of the lease - using his own electric generator to open and close the hangar doors instead of the Authority's supplied electrical power - Rich sued the Authority in common pleas court for, inter alia, breach of contract, breach of good faith, declaratory judgment, interference with contract, and fraud. Subsequently, the Authority brought a forcible entry and ...


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