Robert D. Lampela Appellant
Village of Put-In-Bay, Ohio Appellees
Court No. 15 CV 256
A. Sobekci, for appellant.
Keating Anderson and Max V. Rieker, for appellees.
DECISION AND JUDGMENT
1} This is an appeal from a judgment of the Ottawa
County Court of Common Pleas which affirmed the decision of
appellee to remove appellant from the office of
appellee's village marshal. For the reasons set forth
below, this court affirms the judgment of the trial court.
2} Effective on August 11, 2015, defendant-appellee,
Village of Put-In-Bay, Ohio, removed plaintiff-appellant,
Robert D. Lampela, from the office of village marshal.
Appellee previously brought seven charges against appellant
pursuant to R.C. 737.171 arising from criminal charges
against appellant for violations of R.C. 2921.13(A)(1),
2921.44(B), and 2903.21(A). These criminal charges were
brought by the Ohio Attorney General, who investigated public
corruption allegations involving appellant. Separately, this
court reversed the trial court's sole conviction of
appellant for disorderly conduct. State v. Lampela,
2016-Ohio-8007, 67 N.E.3d 836 (6th Dist).
3} Appellant timely appealed appellee's decision
to the Ottawa County Court of Common Pleas pursuant to R.C.
2506.01(A). Following a two-day "bench trial"
pursuant to R.C. 2506.03, the common pleas court affirmed
appellee's decision on April 3, 2018.
4} Appellant then filed this appeal setting forth
two assignments of error:
I. The trial court erred when it failed to conduct the
evidentiary analysis required by O.R.C. § 2506.04 and to
generate an entry capable of review by the Court of Appeals,
because the trial court's Decision and Judgment Entry
provides inadequate analysis to permit an appellate court to
provide meaningful review of the decision. Decision And
Judgment Entry at 1-3.
II. The trial court erred in finding the decision of the
Village to be supported by a preponderance of reliable,
probative, and substantial evidence. Decision And Judgment
Entry at 3.
Standard of Review
5} We review a decision by a common pleas court on
appeal from a final administrative order for a question of
law. Stanton v. Jerusalem Twp., 6th Dist. Lucas Nos.
L-13-1197, L-14-1070, 2015-Ohio-463, ¶ 4; R.C. 2506.04
("The judgment of the court may be appealed by any party
on questions of law * * *."). We review a question of
law de novo. Cleveland Clinic Found. v. Bd of Zoning
Appeals, 141 Ohio St.3d 318, 2014-Ohio-4809, 23 N.E.3d
1161, ¶ 25.
6} Courts of appeals do not review the supportive
evidence of the administrative agency's decision; rather,
we exclusively look to the supportive evidence of the
decision by the common pleas court. Id. at ¶
27. We lack the common pleas court's power to weigh the
evidence and are "more deferential to the lower
court's decision." Id. at ¶ 25. A
lower court's failure to explain its rationale or to
identify supporting evidence is not fatal unless we find, as
a matter of law, the lower court's decision "was
unsupported by the required evidence." Id. at
7} "Within the ambit of questions of law for
appellate-court review is whether the common pleas court
abused its discretion." Independence v. Office of
the Cuyahoga Cty. Executive, 142 Ohio St.3d 125,
2014-Ohio-4650, 28 N.E.3d 1182, ¶ 14. Abuse of
discretion "'connotes more than an error of law or
judgment; it implies that the court's attitude is
unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable.'"
Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St3d 217, 219, 450
N.E.2d 1140 (1983), quoting State v. Adams, 62 Ohio
St.2d 151, 157, 404 N.E.2d 144 (1980). We must affirm unless,
as a matter of law, we find "that the trial court's
decision is not supported by a preponderance of reliable,
probative, and substantial evidence."
Independence at ¶ 14.
8} "[P]reponderance of evidence means the
greater weight of evidence. * * * The greater weight may be
infinitesimal, and it is only necessary that it be sufficient
to destroy the equilibrium." Travelers' Ins. Co.
v. Gath, 118 Ohio St. 257, 261, 160 N.E. 710 (1928).
9} In citing to The American Heritage Dictionary
(1981), the Ohio Supreme Court stated, in reference to
analogous R.C. 119.12 language, that reliable evidence
"is dependable; that is, it can be confidently trusted.
In order to be reliable, there must be a reasonable
probability that the evidence is true." Our Place,
Inc. v. Ohio Liquor Control Comm., 63 Ohio St.3d 570,
571, 589 N.E.2d 1303 (1992). Probative evidence "is
evidence that tends to prove the issue in question; it must
be relevant in determining the issue." Id.
Substantial evidence "is evidence with some weight; it
must have importance and value." Id.
10} "[S]hould the procedural requirements of
R.C. 2506.03(A)(1) to (A)(5) not be satisfied by the
initiating body, the common pleas court is directed to hear
the appeal, 'upon the transcript and such additional
evidence as may be introduced by any party.'"
Gibraltar Mausoleum Corp. v. Toledo, 106 Ohio App.3d
80, 84, 665 N.E.2d 273 (6th Dist.1995), citing R.C. 2506.03.
"The common pleas court must then assess this augmented
record, giving due deference to the weight afforded the
evidence by the administrative board. This supplementation of
evidence, however, does not alter the common pleas
court's standard of review to affirm the administrative
board's decision absent the court's conclusion that
it is deficient in one of the aspects enumerated in R.C.
11} "In sum, the standard of review for courts
of appeals in administrative appeals is designed to strongly
favor affirmance. It permits reversal only when the common
pleas court errs in its application or interpretation of the
law or its decision is unsupported by a preponderance of the
evidence as a matter of law." Cleveland Clinic,
141 Ohio St.3d 318, 2014-Ohio-4809, 23 N.E.3d 1161, at ¶
30. As the Eighth District stated in Austin v. Cuyahoga
Metro. Hous. Auth., 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 107247,
2019-Ohio-636, ¶ 23:
Because R.C. 2506.04 limits our review to questions of law,
there are two fundamental principles that we must adhere to
with respect to the evidentiary-based arguments advanced in
administrative appeals. On evidentiary matters, appellate
courts are limited to reviewing to determine whether the
trial court's decision is unsupported by a preponderance
of reliable, probative and substantial evidence. * * *
"In this context, a reversal 'as a matter of
law' can occur only when, having viewed the evidence most
favorably to the decision, there are no facts to
support " the trial court's decision. * * *
However, if the trial court considers evidence outside the
administrative record by allowing additional evidence under
the statutory scheme, the review of those determinations
falls under the abuse of discretion standard of review. * * *
Importantly, the prohibition on a court of ...