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State ex rel. Dunn v. Plain Local School District Board of Education

Supreme Court of Ohio

January 9, 2020

The State ex rel. Dunn et al.
v.
Plain Local School District Board of Education.

          Submitted January 7, 2020

          In Mandamus.

          Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., L.P.A., Scott M. Zurakowski, Owen J. Rarric, Joseph J. Pasquarella, and Amanda M. Connelly, for relators.

          Ulmer & Berne, L.L.P., Amanda Martinsek, William D. Edwards, Daniela Paez, Trevor J. Hardy, Rex A. Littrell, and Rachael Rodman, for respondent.

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶ 1} In this expedited election case, relators, nine residents of the village of Hills and Dales, [1] seek a writ of mandamus to compel respondent, the Plain Local School District Board of Education ("the Plain Local school board"), to forward to the Stark County Board of Elections a petition proposing the transfer of some of Plain Local School District's territory to Jackson Local School District. We grant the writ.

         Background

         {¶ 2} R.C. 3311.242 allows certain qualified electors to propose the transfer of the territory in which they reside from one school district to another. As we explained in State ex rel. Hills & Dales v. Plain Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., ___ Ohio St.3d ___, 2019-Ohio-5160, ___ N.E.3d ___, ¶ 3, R.C. 3311.242 establishes a multistep process for the placement of a transfer proposal on an election ballot. First, at least 10 percent of the qualified electors who voted in the last general election must submit a petition to their current school board. R.C. 3311.242(C). The school board then must cause the board of elections to check the sufficiency of the signatures on the petition. Id. If the board of elections verifies the signatures and certifies the petition back to the school board, the school board must (1) file the proposal and a map of the territory to be transferred with the State Board of Education and (2) certify the proposal to the board of elections for placement on the ballot at the next election occurring not less than 90 days after the date of the school board's certification. R.C. 3311.242(B), (C).

         {¶ 3} On October 29, 2019, a petition was delivered to the Plain Local school board proposing the transfer of the village's territory from Plain Local School District to Jackson Local School District beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. The petition sought to have the proposal placed on the March 17, 2020 primary-election ballot. Under R.C. 3311.242(B)(2), the Plain Local school board was required to certify the proposal to the board of elections by December 18, 2019, in order for the proposal to be placed on the March 17, 2020 ballot.

         {¶ 4} At a meeting on November 20, 2019, the Plain Local school board adopted a resolution tabling the petition. The resolution explained that the Plain Local school board had filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of R.C. 3311.242. In its resolution, the Plain Local school board stated that it will not act on the petition until there is a final determination of its claims in federal court.

         {¶ 5} On December 3, the village filed an original action in this court seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the Plain Local school board to perform its duties under R.C. 3311.242. We held that the village lacked standing and dismissed the complaint. On December 16, relators filed this original action seeking the same mandamus relief against the Plain Local school board. We granted relators' motion for an expedited case schedule, and the case is now fully briefed.

         Laches analysis

         {¶ 6} The Plain Local school board argues that relators' claim is barred under the doctrine of laches. We have applied laches in elections cases, which require relators to exhibit "[e]xtreme diligence and promptness." State ex rel. Ryant Commt. v. Lorain Cty. Bd. of Elections, 86 Ohio St.3d 107, 113, 712 N.E.2d 696 (1999). "The elements of laches are (1) unreasonable delay or lapse of time in asserting a right, (2) absence of an excuse for the delay, (3) knowledge, actual or constructive, of the injury or wrong, and (4) prejudice to the other party." State ex rel. Polo v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Elections, 74 Ohio St.3d 143, 145, 656 N.E.2d 1277 (1995).

         {¶ 7} We need not decide whether relators unreasonably delayed in filing this action because the Plain Local school board has not established the fourth element of laches-prejudice to the opposing party. The Plain Local school board argues that it has been prejudiced because relators' delay caused this case to be expedited, but even if relators had filed this action on November 21-the day after the Plain Local school board's resolution-it still would have been necessary to expedite this matter so that it could be ...


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