Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
STATE OF OHIO, EX REL. TRI EAGLE FUELS L.L.C. RELATOR
WILLIAM DAWSON, JUDGE EAST CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL COURT RESPONDENT
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.
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
J. BOYLE, JUDGE.
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. 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.
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.
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."
Eagle then commenced this prohibition action arguing that the
jurisdictional-priority rule deprives the respondent judge of
the jurisdiction to adjudicate the underlying case.
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
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).
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.
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.
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 ...