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State, ex Rel. Judson, v. Spahr

Supreme Court of Ohio
Dec 2, 1987
33 Ohio St. 3d 111 (Ohio 1987)


No. 86-194

Decided December 2, 1987.

Prohibition — Rule of concurrent and co-extensive jurisdiction between two courts not applicable, when.

APPEAL from the Court of Appeals for Licking County.

This case involves an appeal of the decision of the Court of Appeals for Licking County denying relator's complaint for a writ of prohibition to prevent the respondent from proceeding with the trial of an action filed against relator by his wife for the alleged conversion of the proceeds from an automobile insurance policy settlement. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

On July 18, 1983, relator Austin Judson, his wife, Kristee Judson, and their two minor children, Joseph Judson and Austin J. Judson, were in an automobile accident when Warren Board, an uninsured motorist, failed to stop his car at a stop sign in Licking County and collided with the Judsons' car. The relator, Kristee Judson and Austin J. Judson were injured in the accident. Joseph Judson was killed.

Relator thereafter apparently arranged a $52,000 settlement with their insurance company, State Automobile Mutual Insurance Company ("State Auto"), with regard to the claims arising out of the accident. Kristee Judson has alleged that relator, with the aid of Robert McCarty (his attorney), and without her authority to do so, executed receipt, release or discharge documents on her behalf and wrongfully converted the settlement funds to his own use and to Kristee Judson's detriment.

On November 18, 1983, relator filed a complaint against Kristee Judson in the Muskingum County Court of Common Pleas requesting a decree of divorce, division of property, custody of Austin J. Judson and other equitable relief.

On December 5, 1983, Kristee Judson and Sherry Ryan, the administratrix of the estate of Joseph Judson, filed a complaint against Warren Board, the individual county commissioners of Licking County, relator, Robert McCarty, and State Auto in the Licking County Court of Common Pleas requesting compensatory and punitive damages for the wrongful death of Joseph Judson and for Kristee Judson's injuries sustained in the July 18, 1983 accident. In the complaint, Kristee Judson asked for compensatory and punitive damages against relator and Robert McCarty for the wrongful conversion of the State Auto insurance settlement proceeds. In addition, she asked for a declaratory judgment of, inter alia, her rights and State Auto's obligations under the policy with regard to the accident.

On January 4, 1984, relator filed a motion to dismiss Kristee Judson's complaint against him on the ground that his divorce action had previously invoked the exclusive jurisdiction of the Muskingum County court over all matters involving rights to marital property, including Kristee Judson's claim to the proceeds of the State Auto insurance policy. In the alternative, relator requested that the claims against him be severed from the wrongful death action filed by Sherry Ryan and transferred to the Muskingum County court.

On February 24, 1984, the Licking County court denied relator's motion to dismiss and denied his motion to sever and transfer.

On July 9, 1985, the Licking County court scheduled the Judson-Ryan case for trial on January 6, 1986.

On November 5, 1985, relator filed an original action in the Court of Appeals for Licking County requesting (1) a writ of procedendo to require respondent Judge Spahr to rule on relator's motion to sever and transfer Kristee Judson's claim to the Muskingum County court and (2) a writ of prohibition to prevent respondent from exercising any further jurisdiction over that claim.

Relator's complaint in the court of appeals requested a writ of procedendo to require the respondent to rule on relator's motion to sever and to transfer. Since the record indicates that this motion was denied on February 24, 1984, the request for a writ of procedendo was moot.

On December 19, 1985, the court of appeals denied relator's complaint, finding that he had failed to state sufficient facts which justified the requested relief.

The cause is now before this court upon an appeal as of right.

Robert L. McCarty, for appellant.

Robert L. Becker, prosecuting attorney, for appellee.

Burman, Robinson McCarthy Co., L.P.A., Dennis M. McCarthy and William C. Becker, urging affirmance for amicus curiae, Kristee Judson.

In order for the extraordinary writ of prohibition to issue this court must find that the court or officer against whom it is sought is about to exercise judicial or quasi-judicial power, that the exercise of such power must be unauthorized by law, and that relator has no other adequate remedy at law. State, ex rel. Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Auth., v. Guzzo (1983), 6 Ohio St.3d 270, 6 OBR 335, 452 N.E.2d 1314; State, ex rel. Northern Ohio Tel. Co., v. Winter (1970), 23 Ohio St.2d 6, 52 O.O. 2d 29, 260 N.E.2d 827.

The first requirement is clearly satisfied in this case. The Licking County trial court denied relator's motion to dismiss or sever in February 1984. There have been continuing proceedings in that case and a trial was scheduled to commence in January 1986. It is evident that respondent is continuing to exercise his judicial power over the case.

With regard to the second requirement, relator argues that the Licking County court lacks any jurisdiction to adjudicate Kristee Judson's conversion claim because all matters dealing with their rights in marital property, including the State Auto insurance policy, are encompassed in relator's divorce complaint pending in the Muskingum County court. Since that complaint was filed prior to the commencement of Kristee Judson's case, relator in effect argues that the rule of concurrent and co-extensive jurisdiction applies requiring the conclusion that the Muskingum County court acquired exclusive jurisdiction to resolve the dispute over the proceeds of the policy. Relator relies upon State, ex rel. Phillips, v. Polcar (1977), 50 Ohio St.2d 279, 4 O.O. 3d 445, 364 N.E.2d 33, in support of his argument.

The syllabus of Phillips, supra, sets forth the general rule for the resolution of a conflict between two courts when both are asserting jurisdiction over the same cause:

"As between courts of concurrent jurisdiction, the tribunal whose power is first invoked by the institution of proper proceedings acquires jurisdiction, to the exclusion of all other tribunals, to adjudicate upon the whole issue and to settle the rights of the parties. ( John Weenink Sons Co. v. Court of Common Pleas, 150 Ohio St. 349, approved and followed.)"

It is a condition of the operation of the rule that the claims or causes of action be the same in both cases. If the second case is not for the same cause of action, nor between the same parties, the former suit will not prevent the latter. State, ex rel. Maxwell, v. Schneider (1921), 103 Ohio St. 492, 134 N.E. 443.

Furthermore, the rule does not apply where the conflict of jurisdiction is between a court of general jurisdiction and one whose limited powers are inadequate to afford full relief to the parties. State, ex rel. McHenry, v. Calhoun (1950), 87 Ohio App. 1, 93 N.E.2d 317.

Courts of common pleas are courts of general jurisdiction and have original jurisdiction in all civil suits where the sum or matter in dispute exceeds the exclusive original jurisdiction of county courts. R.C. 2305.01. Kristee Judson's conversion action falls within this broad jurisdictional grant.

Relator's divorce complaint invoked the Muskingum County Common Pleas Court's original domestic relations jurisdiction under R.C. Chapter 3105, which is limited to divorce, annulment, alimony and dissolution actions.

R.C. 3105.011 provides that a court of common pleas, including divisions of domestic relations, has full equitable powers and jurisdiction appropriate to determine all domestic relations matters. The exercise of the full equity powers and jurisdiction in any alimony or divorce action does include the authority to determine the rights of the parties to alimony and a division of property. Griste v. Griste (1960), 171 Ohio St. 160, 12 O.O. 2d 176, 167 N.E.2d 924, paragraph two of the syllabus; Clark v. Clark (1956), 165 Ohio St. 457, 60 O.O. 115, 136 N.E.2d 52.

In this case, the Licking County and Muskingum County courts do not have concurrent and co-extensive jurisdiction because the two cases involve different causes of action and different parties.

Relator's divorce complaint asks the Muskingum County court to divide the marital property, while Kristee Judson's complaint asks the Licking County court to award damages against relator and his attorney for the unauthorized conversion of the insurance proceeds, and also requests a declaratory judgment as to the rights and obligations of herself, Joseph Judson's estate and State Auto under that policy.

Although the domestic relations jurisdiction of the Muskingum County court extends to the determination of matters involving the marital property of relator and his wife, the action filed by Kristee Judson alleges matters and involves parties that would not properly be involved in the divorce case in Muskingum County. It would be unreasonable to split the conversion action and have relator and Kristee Judson litigate claims between themselves in Muskingum County while Kristee Judson and Robert McCarty continue to litigate in Licking County. Since the Licking County court has jurisdiction to make a complete adjudication of the case, the rule of concurrent and co-extensive jurisdiction should not operate to divest the Licking County court of jurisdiction over Kristee Judson's conversion action. Thus, relator has failed to satisfy the second requirement for a writ of prohibition.

Furthermore, even if the rule of concurrent and co-extensive jurisdiction were applicable in this case, a writ of prohibition should not issue if relator has an adequate remedy at law.

A party challenging the jurisdiction of a court has a remedy at law in appeal from an adverse holding of the court that it has such jurisdiction, and may not maintain a proceeding in prohibition to prevent the prosecution of such action. State, ex rel. Smith, v. Court (1982), 70 Ohio St.2d 213, 24 O.O. 3d 320, 436 N.E.2d 1005, paragraph one of the syllabus; State, ex rel. Miller, v. Court (1949), 151 Ohio St. 397, 30 O.O. 232, 86 N.E.2d 464, paragraph three of the syllabus.

Relator contends that appeal is an inadequate remedy since the denial of the requested writ would compel him to litigate the same issues twice, one in each county, resulting in an inequitable and unnecessary duplication of costs, witnesses, and evidence. Furthermore, relator asserts that the possibility of conflicting decisions between the two courts demonstrates the inadequacy of an appeal from a final judgment in Licking County.

We are not persuaded that there will be undue duplication of litigation costs or other hardships to relator if the writ is denied. The Muskingum County court can certainly take full judicial notice of any judgment which the Licking County court renders in the conversion action, thus avoiding the need for a second trial of those issues and any possibility of conflicting judgments.

We find that the relator has failed to show that the Licking County court lacks the jurisdiction to hear Kristee Judson's conversion claim and her declaratory judgment action. The rule of concurrent and co-extensive jurisdiction does not apply. Furthermore, even if the rule were applicable, relator has a plain and adequate remedy at law.

The decision of the court of appeals denying relator's complaint for a writ of prohibition is affirmed.

Judgment affirmed.


Summaries of

State, ex Rel. Judson, v. Spahr

Supreme Court of Ohio
Dec 2, 1987
33 Ohio St. 3d 111 (Ohio 1987)
Case details for

State, ex Rel. Judson, v. Spahr

Case Details


Court:Supreme Court of Ohio

Date published: Dec 2, 1987


33 Ohio St. 3d 111 (Ohio 1987)
515 N.E.2d 911

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