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Ralls v. Lewin

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

August 16, 2019

MARLON D. RALLS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
GAIL LEWIN, Defendant-Appellee.

          Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Trial No. A-1704960

         Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed and Cause Remanded

          Marlon D. Ralls, pro se

          Patrick J. Deninger, for Defendant-Appellee.

          OPINION

          MYERS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} In two related assignments of error, Marlon D. Ralls argues that the trial court erred by entering summary judgment in favor of Gail Lewin[1] on Ralls's claims stemming from an automobile accident on October 31, 2015. Because we find procedural errors requiring reversal, we do not reach the merits of Ralls's arguments.

         {¶2} Lewin filed a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss Ralls's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, on the sole ground that the matter had previously been adjudicated. Lewin argued that Ralls had asserted the same claim against her in four previous lawsuits, two of which Ralls had voluntarily dismissed, one of which was dismissed upon Lewin's motion, and one of which had resulted in a judgment in Lewin's favor. To establish that she was entitled to dismissal, Lewin attached to her motion what purported to be copies of a police report, a waiver and cancelled check, entries and filings from separate court cases, and a transcript of a hearing.[2]

         {¶3} After Ralls failed to respond to Lewin's motion to dismiss, the trial court placed of record an "Entry Granting Defendant Gail Lewin's Motion for Summary Judgment." The entry stated, "This matter came before the Court upon Defendant[] Gail Lewin's Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon Defendant's Motion and for good cause shown, the Motion to Dismiss is well taken and hereby granted."

         {¶4} Following our review of the record, we conclude that, based on procedural errors, the trial court's judgment cannot be upheld either as a dismissal pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(6) or as a summary judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 56.

         {¶5} Res judicata is not a proper basis for dismissal under Civ.R. 12. Jefferson v. Bunting, 140 Ohio St.3d 62, 2014-Ohio-3074, 14 N.E.3d 1036, ¶ 10. Res judicata is an affirmative defense under Civ.R. 8(C), and is not one of the defenses that may be raised in a Civ.R. 12(B) motion to dismiss in the absence of some clear admission on the face of the complaint. See id.

         {¶6} Moreover, resolution of a res judicata defense typically depends on materials outside the pleadings. See State ex rel. West v. McDonnell, 139 Ohio St.3d 115, 2014-Ohio-1562, 9 N.E.3d 1025, ¶ 16. But a trial court may not rely on evidence or allegations outside the complaint to determine a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss. State ex rel. Fuqua v. Alexander, 79 Ohio St.3d 206, 207, 680 N.E.2d 985 (1997).

         {¶7} Where a res judicata defense depends on matters outside the pleadings, and the trial court considers the extraneous materials in ruling on the motion, the court should convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment and provide the nonmoving party with notice and an opportunity to be heard. Jefferson at ¶ 12; see Civ.R. 12(B).

         {¶8} Notice is required to give parties a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate that a genuine issue of fact exists. See Dietelbach v. Ohio Edison Co., 11th Dist. Trumbull No. 2004-T-0063, 2005-Ohio-4902, ¶ 12. In Hooten v. Safe Auto Ins. Co., 100 Ohio St.3d 8, 2003-Ohio-4829, 795 N.E.2d 648, ¶ 34, the Supreme Court of Ohio explained:

One of the overriding goals of Civ.R. 56 is fundamental fairness to all litigants, given the high stakes involved when summary judgment is sought. See Murphy v. Reynoldsburg (1992), 65 Ohio St.3d 356, 360, 604 N.E.2d 138 (because summary judgment terminates litigation without the benefit of a trial on the merits, compliance with the letter and spirit of the rule is of paramount importance). Civ.R. 56's procedural fairness requirements place significant responsibilities on all parties and judges to ensure that summary judgment should be granted only after all parties have ...

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