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State ex rel. New Prospect Baptist Church v. Ruehlman

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

December 20, 2019


          Original Action in Mandamus and Prohibition

         Judgment of the Court: Writ of Mandamus is Denied; Writ of Prohibition is Granted in Part and Denied in Part

          American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation, Joseph W. Mead, Freda J. Levinson and David J. Carey, for Relator,

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, Pamela J. Sears and Cooper D. Bowen, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for Respondent.


          Mock, Presiding Judge.

         {¶1} This is an original action in which the relator, New Prospect Baptist Church ("New Prospect"), a local religious organization, seeks writs of prohibition and mandamus involving respondent, the Hon. Robert P. Ruehlman, a judge of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas.

         {¶2} New Prospect seeks to prevent respondent from enforcing an August 16, 2018 permanent injunction issued under Civ.R. 65, in a nuisance action brought against the city of Cincinnati in the case numbered A-1804285 ("the underlying case"). Based on affidavits from public health and police officials, respondent found that illegal encampments by homeless persons on public rights-of-way on Third Street in downtown Cincinnati were a nuisance and constituted "a hazard to the health and safety of the general public, including those living in the illegal encampments."

         {¶3} Respondent further found that, in response to its earlier temporary restraining orders, the homeless encampments were moving to other locations within the Cincinnati city limits including a community park in the city's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Respondent identified these encampments as a mobile and moving nuisance that also jeopardized public health and safety. Respondent then decreed that based upon its "county wide jurisdiction over encampments on public property and privately owned unlicensed parks, camps, [and] park-camps located anywhere in Hamilton County, Ohio," the Cincinnati police department and the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office were authorized to clear illegal encampments "through any lawful means necessary, including arrest for obstructions of official business in execution of this lawful order." City and county law-enforcement personnel were authorized to seize tents, other shelters, and valuables found at the encampments. Violators of the injunction are "subject to arrest" under the court's contempt powers.

         {¶4} New Prospect was never made a party to the underlying action but fears being bound by its expansive injunctive relief without notice and an opportunity to be heard. It is undisputed that the 100-year-old church observes a religious and charitable mandate to serve those in need in Cincinnati. As part of that mission New Prospect has offered its four-acre site in the Roselawn neighborhood of Cincinnati as a refuge for people experiencing homelessness.

         {¶5} After New Prospect filed this petition seeking writs of mandamus or prohibition, respondent moved this court to dismiss the petition alleging that New Prospect lacked standing to maintain this action. Following oral argument on the motion, on January 24, 2019, we denied the motion and held that New Prospect has standing to proceed because it has demonstrated "an injury in fact to a legally protected interest." See State ex rel. Matasy v. Morley, 25 Ohio St.3d 22, 23, 494 N.E.2d 1146 (1986).

         {¶6} A writ of prohibition directs a lower court to refrain from exercising authority over a matter beyond its jurisdiction. A writ of prohibition is the proper vehicle to prevent enforcement of an order against an entity that "was not served with a summons, did not appear, and was not a party." State ex rel. Doe v. Capper, 132 Ohio St.3d 365, 2012-Ohio-2686, 972 N.E.2d 553, ¶ 15. To be entitled to a writ of prohibition, New Prospect must establish that respondent Ruehlman has or is about to exercise judicial or quasi-judicial power, that the exercise of that power is unauthorized by law, and that it lacks an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. See id. at ¶ 10; see also State ex rel. Levin v. Sheffield Lake, 70 Ohio St.3d 104, 106, 637 N.E.2d 319 (1994).

         {¶7} A petition seeking prohibition is a civil action. See Civ.R. 1(A) and 1(C). Thus it may be resolved on summary judgment. See State ex rel. Scripps Media v. Hunter, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-130241, 2013-Ohio-5895, ¶ 31. Summary judgment is appropriate if (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial, (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and (3) reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse to the nonmoving party, who is entitled to have the evidence construed most strongly in his or her favor. See Civ.R. 56; see also Dresher v. Burt, 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 662 N.E.2d 264 (1996).

         {¶8} Here, respondent has moved for summary judgment claiming that no triable issues of fact remain and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. New Prospect argues that "on the undisputed and admitted facts" it is entitled to the issuance of the writs. Since both parties maintain that no genuine issues of material fact remain in dispute, this court is free to render a decision as a matter of law. See Cincinnati v. Ohio Council 8, Am. Fedn. of State, Cty. & Mun. Emp., AFL-CIO, 93 Ohio App.3d 162, 164, 638 N.E.2d 94 (1st Dist.1994).

         {¶9} It is clear that respondent has exercised judicial power in the underlying action by issuing temporary restraining orders and a permanent injunction under Civ.R. 65. New Prospect was not an original party to the underlying action. It did not become one by substitution or by intervention under Civ.R. 24. It thus lacks an adequate remedy at law against respondent's exercise of judicial authority by means of a direct appeal. ...

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