Period for appeal doesn’t begin until clerk serves judgment and records service, rules Ohio Supreme Court

In a notable and unanimous decision reached yesterday, the Supreme Court of Ohio overruled a 1993 case and settled a split among districts regarding service of a judgment and the time period to file an appeal. Justice O'Neill penned the Court's opinion. The case before the Court arose in Clermont County, where the Plaintiff had won a judgment against the Clermont County Transportation Improvement District and then filed a motion for attorney fees, which the Court denied in November 2012.

At that time, the court’s judgment denying attorney fees was not officially served on the parties or noted on the docket by the clerk of courts, but according to the notation on the judgment by the court’s bailiff “copies of the within Decision/Entry were sent via Facsimile/E-Mail/Regular U.S. Mail this 27th Day of November 2012 to all counsel of record and unrepresented parties.” The appellant admitted to receiving the judgment. The court subsequently served the parties as required by Civil Rule 58(B) on January 30, 2013 and the appellant filed an appeal on February 3. The Twelfth District Court of Appeals denied the appeal as untimely because it had not been filed within 30 days of the November judgment.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the Twelfth District, holding that just because a party has actual knowledge of a judgment, as happened in this case, that does not replace the requirement that parties be served by the clerk of courts as required in Civ. Rule 58(B). The Court wrote, “the 30-day time period to file a notice of appeal begins upon service and notation of service on the docket by the clerk of courts regardless of actual knowledge by the parties,” and noted that allowing an exception to this rule for “actual knowledge" would “open a Pandora’s Box of problems.” The Court stressed that allowing this exception would essentially require an appellate court to become a fact-finder tasked with determining when parties had gained actual knowledge of the judgment, and found that this scenario was “untenable.”

This opinion overrules the Court’s prior decision in State ex rel. Hughes v. Celeste, which had allowed the 30 day time period for the Ohio governor to appeal a writ to begin when an attorney hand-delivered the order to the attorney general. The Court found that the Hughes decision had relied on Civil Rule 5(B) which allows other methods of service, but only applies to pleadings and motions filed after the complaint and not final judgments. In overruling the decision, the Court emphasized the importance of service for these final judgments, noting that “we are talking about the very foundation for jurisdiction in the appellate court. It is simply too important to allow for notice in a casual manner.”

For more information about this case, see this article from Court News Ohio and the Court’s online docket.

Photo by Brian Turner, via Flickr