Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
RONALD HOFFMAN, DON HOFFMAN, KEN HOFFMAN, RANDALL S. HOFFMAN, TODD C. HOFFMAN, and ALICIA J. PITCHER, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
WAYNE HOFFMAN, PAMELA HOFFMAN, and GERALD BRAUNSTEIN, Defendants-Appellants.
Appeals From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL
NOS. 201700205 201700206
R. Shugar and Ian D. Mitchell, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.
Christopher R. Heekin, for Defendants-Appellants.
Wayne Hoffman, Pamela Hoffman, and Gerald Braunstein
("Appellants") appeal from the trial court's
judgment denying their motions to vacate default judgment
entered in two cases, 201700205 and 201700206. Appellants
separately appealed both cases, and the appeals were
consolidated by this court. We reverse the trial court's
judgments and remand the cause because neither the motions
for a default judgment, nor a notice of the hearing, were
ever served on Appellants.
Posture and Facts
On January 17, 2017, Ronald Hoffman, Don Hoffman, Ken
Hoffman, Randall S. Hoffman, Todd C. Hoffman, and Alicia J.
Pitcher ("Appellees") filed a complaint to contest
the Last Will and Testament of Malvon W. Hoffman against
Appellants in the case numbered 201700205. That same day,
Appellees filed a separate complaint for a declaratory
judgment against Appellants in the case numbered 201700206.
On February 20, 2017, Wayne Hoffman called counsel for
Appellees and requested a 30-day extension of time for
deadlines in each case, to which Appellees' counsel
agreed. There is some dispute as to what deadlines Hoffman
asked Appellees' counsel to extend-Hoffman claims he
asked for an extension to answer the complaint, while
Appellees' counsel claims Hoffman asked for an extension
On February 23, 2017, Appellees filed a motion for a default
judgment in each case, but did not serve either motion on
Appellants. A hearing on the motions was held before a
magistrate on March 13, 2017. Appellants were not afforded
notice of the hearing, nor did they attend. The magistrate
entered default judgments in both cases on March 14, 2017.
Appellants filed motions to vacate the default judgments and
motions for leave to file answers out of time on April 12,
2017. After a hearing, the magistrate entered a decision
denying Appellants' motion to vacate the default judgment
in 201700206. No decision was entered in 201700205.
Appellants filed objections in 201700206. The trial court
deemed the magistrate's decision to have also been
entered in 201700205, adopted the magistrate's decision,
denied Appellants' objections, and entered judgment in
both cases. Appellants now appeal.
In their sole assignment of error, Appellants argue that the
trial court erred in denying Appellants' objections to
the magistrate's decision. Specifically, Appellants
contend that the magistrate should have applied Civ.R. 60(B)
liberally to provide them relief from the default judgments;
Civ.R. 55(A) required notice of the default judgment at least
seven days prior to a hearing on the motion; Civ.R. 5(B)(4)
required the filing of a certificate of service of the
motions; and the magistrate's decision is
self-contradictory in its application of the facts.
Absence of a Magistrate's Decision in 201700205
Magistrate's decisions are governed by Civ.R. 53. Under
that rule, "a magistrate shall prepare a
magistrate's decision respecting any matter referred
under Civ.R. 53(D)(1)." Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(a).
"If one or more objections to a magistrate's
decision are timely filed, the court shall rule on those
objections," undertaking an independent review as to the
objected matters to ascertain that the magistrate has
properly determined the factual issues and appropriately
applied the law. Civ.R. 53(D)(4)(d). The purpose for the
procedures set forth in Civ.R. 53 is to afford litigants with
a meaningful opportunity to file objections. Pinkerson v.
Pinkerson, 7 Ohio App.3d 319, 455 N.E.2d 693 (1st
Dist.1982). "A trial court's failure to comply with
Civ.R. 53 constitutes grounds for reversal only if the
appellant shows the alleged error has merit and the error
worked to the prejudice of the appellant." In re
Estate of Hughes, 94 Ohio App.3d 551, 554, 641
N.E.2d 248 (9th Dist1994). Here, a magistrate's decision
was never prepared or journalized in 201700205. The
magistrate entered a decision in 201700206, and the decision
references only that case throughout.
Absent a decision by the magistrate in 201700205, the trial
court was permitted to rule on Appellants' motion in the
first instance, even after a referral to the magistrate.
Civ.R. 53(D)(4)(b); see Yantek v. Coach Builders Ltd.,
Inc., 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-060601, 2007-Ohio-5126,
¶ 11; Donofrio v. Whitman, 191 Ohio App.3d 727,
2010-Ohio-6406, 947 N.E.2d 715, ¶ 21 (7th Dist.). Thus,
the court's entry of judgment in 201700205 did not run
afoul of Civ.R. 53. The court's entry simply recognized
that the issues are identical in both cases and ruled on
Appellants' motion to vacate the default judgment, albeit
by taking the unusual step of deeming the magistrate's
decision in 201700206 to have been properly filed in
201700205. The court essentially recognized that the
reasoning in 201700206 was equally applicable to 201700205.
The trial court's decision prejudices no one and neither
party argues otherwise. Our treatment of the court's
entry in 201700205 as an independent judgment most accurately
reflects what occurred below. Accordingly, we review the
"Appellate courts 'generally review a trial
court's adoption, denial or modification of a
magistrate's decision for an abuse of
discretion.'" In re D.S., 10th Dist.
Franklin No. 15AP-487, 2016-Ohio-2810, ¶ 9, quoting
Brunetto v. Curtis, 10th Dist. Franklin No.
10AP-799, 2011-Ohio-1610, ¶ 10. "However, where the
appeal from the trial court's action on a
magistrate's decision presents only a question of law,
the standard of review is de novo." In re D.S.
at ¶ 9. The standard of review of a court's decision