Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Trumbull
STATE OF OHIO ex rel. OHIO EDISON COMPANY, Relator,
TRUMBULL COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS, et al., Respondent.
Original Action for Writ of Prohibition.
T. Dellick, Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, Ltd., (For
Watkins, Trumbull County Prosecutor, and William J. Danso and
Michael J. Fredericka, Assistant Prosecutors, Administration
Building, Fourth Floor, (For Respondent).
Relator, Ohio Edison Company ("Ohio Edison"), has
filed an original action seeking a writ of prohibition to
prevent respondent, Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas,
from proceeding on a complaint, filed against it by a third
party, Double K Kirby Farms ("Double K") in Case
No. 2019 CV 416. In its petition, Ohio Edison argues the
court of common pleas lacks jurisdiction over a complaint
filed against it because it claims the Public Utility
Commission of Ohio ("PUCO") possesses exclusive
jurisdiction over the allegations, pursuant to R.C. 4905.26.
Relator filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, asserting
its jurisdictional argument. Respondent, Trumbull County
Court of Common Pleas, however, after considering the motion
and the plaintiffs memorandum in opposition, denied the
motion. For the reasons that follow, we conclude the Trumbull
County Court of Common Pleas lacks jurisdiction to proceed
and accordingly grant Ohio Edison's petition.
Factual and Procedural Background
In March 2019, Double K filed its complaint in the court of
common pleas. The following allegations were set forth in the
complaint: In April 2017, Double K observed abnormal behavior
in its dairy cows. In October 2017, Double K believed stray
electrical voltage existed on its farm in the form of
neutral-to-earth voltages. Double K contacted Precision Ag
Automation, an apparent agricultural engineering company, to
test for stray voltage (the complaint and the parties appear
to agree that "neutral-to-earth voltage" and
"stray voltage" identify the same electrical
phenomenon). Pursuant to the test, Precision Ag found
excessive voltage on the farm and equipment damage from low
voltage during a "brownout." Double K subsequently
contacted New Pittsburg Large Animal Clinic to evaluate its
cows. The clinic opined the stray electrical voltage caused
substantial damage to its cows. Over 25 cows died from the
stray electrical voltage and another 32 had to be sold for
slaughter due to complications from the voltage. In light of
the foregoing, Double K asserted Ohio Edison breached its
duty by failing to provide proper and appropriate electrical
voltage and failing to install an appropriate device to
reduce the neutral-to-earth voltages which caused it damages
in excess of $25, 000.
Ohio Edison moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing Double
K's claim was actually a service complaint subject to the
exclusive jurisdiction of PUCO. Double K opposed the motion.
In its memorandum, Double K noted it had previously filed a
claim with PUCO, but, in that matter, Ohio Edison moved to
dismiss its prayer for monetary damages. PUCO granted the
motion. Double K asserted that, because the prayer for
damages was dismissed, the action in tort was properly before
the court of common pleas. Ohio Edison filed a reply brief,
asserting Ohio's public-utility statutes provide a
customer with the ability to have its service claim assessed
for a violation, but the process is two-fold. If the service
complaint before PUCO is successful and not reversed by the
Ohio Supreme Court, a claimant may then bring the matter
before the courts to determine whether damages are
appropriate. See R.C. 4905.61. The trial court denied Ohio
Edison's motion, concluding the claim for damages was
properly before it.
Ohio Edison subsequently filed the instant petition for writ
of prohibition. The matter is before the court on the
petition, Ohio Edison's motion for summary judgment, as
well as respondent's memorandum in opposition to Ohio
General Governing Law
Three elements are generally required for a writ of
prohibition to issue: the exercise of judicial power, the
lack of authority for the exercise of that power, and the
lack of an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law.
State ex rel. Elder v. Camplese, 144 Ohio St.3d 89,
2015-Ohio-3628, ¶13. If, however, the absence of
jurisdiction is patent and unambiguous, a petitioner need not
establish the third prong, the lack of an adequate remedy at
law. State ex rel. Sapp v. Franklin Cty. Court of
Appeals, 118 Ohio St.3d 368, 2008-Ohio-2637, ¶15.
Ohio Edison has established the first prerequisite for the
issuance of the writ. Respondent, the court of common pleas,
has exercised judicial power in the underlying case by
denying Ohio Edison's motion to dismiss Double K's
complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and will
continue to exercise judicial power as the case proceeds. We
shall therefore proceed to analyze whether, as Ohio Edison
asserts in its motion for summary judgment, the trial court
patently and unambiguously lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.
Subject-matter jurisdiction is the power conferred upon a
court to hear and decide a case on the merits. Morrison
v. Steiner, 32 Ohio St.2d 86 (1972), paragraph one of
the syllabus. "'Jurisdiction does not relate to the
rights of the parties, but to the power of the
court.'" (Emphasis sic.) State ex rel.
Jones v. Suster, 84 Ohio St.3d 70, 75 (1998), quoting
Executors of Long's Estate v. State, 21 Ohio
App. 412, 415 (1st Dist.1926).
"The General Assembly has created a broad and
comprehensive statutory scheme for regulating the business
activities of public utilities." Kazmaier
Supermarket, Inc. v. Toledo Edison Co., 61 Ohio St.3d
147, 150 (1991). "R.C. Title 49 sets forth a detailed
statutory framework for the regulation of utility service and
the fixation of rates charged by public utilities to their
customers." Id. As part of that framework, the
General Assembly created PUCO, ...