Oral Argument Previews

2014 Archive | 2013 Archive | 2012 Archive | Calendar
Live Streaming Video Coverage

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Brookwood Presbyterian Church v. Ohio Department of Education, Case no. 2009-1926
10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

Toledo Bar Association v. Douglas J. Ritson, Case no. 2010-0341

Pickaway County Skilled Gaming LLC et al. v. Richard Cordray, Ohio Attorney General, et al., Case no. 2009-1559
10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)


Is ODE Ruling Denying Eligibility of Nonprofit Group to Apply as Charter School Sponsor Appealable?

Under State Administrative Procedures Act

Brookwood Presbyterian Church v. Ohio Department of Education, Case no. 2009-1926
10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

ISSUE:  When a tax-exempt nonprofit organization seeks the approval of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to sponsor a community or “charter” school, and ODE makes a determination that the entity is not eligible to apply as a sponsor because it does not meet threshold criteria for sponsoring organizations set forth in R.C. 3314.02, is the department’s denial of eligibility a final determination not subject to appeal, or is its ruling subject to appeal under provisions of R.C. 119.12, the Ohio Administrative Procedures Act?

BACKGROUND:  In November 2007, Brookwood Presbyterian Church of Columbus submitted an application to ODE seeking approval as a sponsor of community schools under the provisions of R.C. Chapter 3314.  In March 2008 ODE notified Brookwood that the department had conducted a preliminary review of its qualifications and had determined that Brookwood was not eligible to apply for sponsorship of  a community school because it did not meet the threshold standards for sponsoring nonprofit entities set forth in R.C. 3314.02.  Specifically, ODE informed Brookwood that it did not qualify as an “education-oriented entity” under R.C. 3314.02(C)(1)(f)(iii).

Brookwood asked ODE to reconsider its ruling. The department affirmed its denial of eligibility in May 2008. Brookwood filed an appeal in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, citing the right to appeal rulings of administrative agencies of state government provided by R.C. 119.12. ODE filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, citing R.C. 3314.015(B)(3) which states that  the department’s determinations of whether or not a nonprofit group seeking sponsorship qualifies as an “education-oriented entity” are “final” and therefore not subject to appeal.  The trial court granted the requested dismissal.   Brookwood then sought to appeal the trial court’s decision to the 10th District Court of Appeals.  The 10th District affirmed the trial court’s judgment that under R.C. 3314.015(B)(3) ODE’s rulings on whether a nonprofit applicant for community school sponsorship is or is not “education-oriented” is a final determination, and therefore non-appealable.  Brookwood sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the 10th District’s decision.

Attorneys for Brookwood argue that, contrary to the rulings of the common pleas court and 10th District in this case,  the statutory scheme established by the legislature in R.C. Chapter 3314 for ODE review of community school sponsorship applications does not create a two-step process in which the department first makes a non-appealable preliminary determination of the applicant’s eligibility to apply, followed by an appealable “ruling on the merits” approving or disapproving  those applicants who are found eligible.  Instead, they say, the language of the statute refers only to a single determination by ODE that either approves or disapproves a sponsorship application, and explicitly provides in R.C. 3314.015(D) that a candidate whose application is disapproved may pursue a judicial appeal of the ODE’s ruling pursuant to R.C. 119.12.  

Attorneys for ODE urge the justices to affirm the lower court rulings that R.C. 3314.015(B) establishes a set of five threshold criteria that must be met by any nonprofit organization before its application for charter school sponsorship  can be considered, and that the plain language of R.C. 3314.015(B)(3) grants ODE  “final” authority to determine whether or not a nonprofit entity seeking to sponsor a community school does or does not meet the threshold test of being an “education-oriented entity.”  They point to several other provisions of state law granting an administrative agency authority to make a “final” determination on a factual question, and note that state courts have consistently held that such language in a statute demonstrates legislative intent that the decisions of the agency are not subject to appeal.

Contacts
James S. Callender Jr., 216.363.1400, for Brookwood Presbyterian Church.

Benjamin C. Mizer, 614.466.8980, for the Ohio Department of Education.

Return to top

Attorney Discipline

Toledo Bar Association v. Douglas J. Ritson, Case no. 2010-0341

The Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline has recommended that Toledo attorney Douglas J. Ritson be permanently disbarred for his role in an insurance fraud scheme in which, over a four-year period, Ritson and co-conspirators induced approximately 3,000 real estate agents and appraisers inside and outside of Ohio to pay membership dues totaling $3.7 million to two companies, the American Real Estate Association (AREA) and the Noble Group, based on the false representation that dues were being used to purchase errors-and-omissions insurance coverage for AREA and Noble members.

Ritson subsequently admitted to police and disciplinary authorities that the insurer from whom members were purportedly obtaining coverage, Midwest Insurance Company,  was an offshore entity that was never licensed to sell insurance in the U.S., and that no errors-and-omissions policy covering AREA or Noble members was ever issued by Midwest.

The board recommended that Ritson, who was convicted on a federal felony count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and whose law license has been under an interim suspension since December 2008, should be permanently disbarred rather than merely suspended based on multiple aggravating factors including his extensive pattern of misconduct and multiple acts of fraud and dishonesty over a multi-year period that caused substantial harm to hundreds of victims.

Attorneys for Ritson have filed objections to the board’s findings and recommended sanction of disbarment.  They point out that while he admits engaging in multiple acts of dishonesty, Ritson’s involvement in the insurance scheme was not predicated on his special prerogatives or status as an attorney and did not involve abuse of trust placed in him by clients of his law practice.  They also assert that the board’s report fails to reflect important mitigation evidence presented at his hearing, includING multiple character references from other attorneys and long-time acquaintances and evidence regarding the other penalties, including more than a year of incarceration, that Ritson has already suffered as a result of his actions. They point out  the three-member hearing panel that actually heard all the evidence in his case recommended an indefinite license suspension rather than disbarment as the appropriate sanction for his misconduct, and urge the Court to adopt the panel’s recommendation rather than that of the full board.

Attorneys for the Toledo Bar Association, which prosecuted the disciplinary complaint against Ritson before the board, filed a response to Ritson’s objections.  They point out that in addition to his current violations of attorney discipline rules, Ritson was disciplined by the Court in 2002 for prior acts of misconduct.  While Ritson cites several other disciplinary cases involving large-scale mail fraud or similar crimes in which the offender was suspended from practice but not disbarred, the bar association notes that none of the cited cases involved an attorney with a prior disciplinary record.

They suggest that, while the association recommended a sanction of indefinite license suspension, the facts of Ritson’s case support disbarment.

Contacts
Jonathan B. Cherry, 419.242.4969, for the Toledo Bar Association.

Bradley J. Jan, 586.282.8582, for Douglas Ritson.

Return to top

Is State’s $10 Prize Limit for Legal Skill Game Machines ‘Rationally Related’ to Purpose of Statute?

Pickaway County Skilled Gaming LLC et al. v. Richard Cordray, Ohio Attorney General, et al., Case no. 2009-1559
10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

ISSUE:  Is a provision of Ohio’s anti-gambling statute that legalizes skill-based amusement machines only if they limit merchandise prizes awarded to winners to a wholesale value of $10 or less unconstitutional on the basis that the prize limit is not rationally related to the purpose of the statute?

BACKGROUND:  In October 2007, the General Assembly adopted changes to R.C. Chapter 2915, the state’s anti-gambling statute. Among those changes was the insertion of new language distinguishing  between illegal “slot machines” and legal “skill-based amusement machines.”  The amended statute defined a permissible skill-based amusement machine as a game in which the outcome of play is based solely on the skill of the player with no element of chance, and added the further condition that in order to be legal, a skill-based amusement machine must limit merchandise prizes awarded to winners to a wholesale value of $10 or less.

Pickaway County Skilled Gaming LLC and Stephen S. Cline own and operate Spinners, an amusement game arcade located in Circleville.  Shortly after the amendments to the gambling statute took effect, Spinners filed suit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas seeking a declaratory judgment that the legislation was unconstitutional and a permanent injunction barring the Ohio Attorney General from enforcing the new provisions.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the state, rejecting each of the constitutional arguments advanced by the arcade owners, who then appealed the trial court’s decision to the 10th District Court of Appeals. 

On review, the 10th District affirmed the trial court’s rulings on all but one of the constitutional issues raised by the appellants, but held that the $10 prize limit set forth in R.C. 2915.01(AAA)(1) was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause because the purpose of the statute was to prohibit games of chance while permitting the operation of skill-based amusement machines, and legalizing skill-based games with small prizes while banning skill-based games with bigger prizes created a legal distinction that was not rationally related to the purpose of the statute.  The state sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the 10th District’s ruling.

Attorneys for the state point out that enactments of the legislature enjoy a strong presumption of constitutionality, and may be voided only where the state is unable to assert any rational basis for a statutory provision.  In this case, they argue, the purpose of the statute is to prohibit gambling whether on games of chance or games of skill, and there is a reasonable basis to anticipate that skill games offering token or low-value awards to players will attract and encourage family-oriented, recreational use of such machines, while machines that offer large prizes tend to attract users seeking financial gain and/or seeking to compete against other players in a manner that promotes a gambling mentality and environment.  They also assert that imposing a  prize limit reflects the reality that, where large or unlimited prizes are offered, the operators of skill-based games  have a significantly greater incentive to manipulate or reprogram them to introduce elements of chance that will not be detectable by law enforcement agents inspecting an arcade without confiscating and disassembling the machines.

Attorneys for the arcade operators argue that the $10 prize limit adopted by the legislature is not merely a regulatory distinction between different types or classes of gaming machines, but establishes an absolute dividing line between gaming machines that may be owned and operated legally in Ohio and machines that may not be operated anywhere in the state without subjecting the owner to significant criminal penalties.  They urge the Court to affirm the 10th District’s holding that the clear purpose of R.C. Chapter 2915 is to prohibit games of chance and prevent the social and economic damage known to arise from gambling addictions. Because the key criterion set forth in the statute for an illegal gaming machine is its reliance on an element of chance, they argue that there is no rational basis to distinguish between skill-based games that have no such element according to the irrelevant consideration of how large or small a prize they offer.

Contacts
Benjamin C. Mizer, 614.466.8980, for Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

Gail M. Zalimeni, 614.221.3151, for Pickaway County Skilled Gaming LLC.

Return to top

These informal previews are prepared by the Supreme Court's Office of Public Information to provide the news media and other interested persons with a brief overview of the legal issues and arguments advanced by the parties in upcoming cases scheduled for oral argument. The previews are not part of the case record, and are not considered by the Court during its deliberations.

Parties interested in receiving additional information are encouraged to review the case file available in the Supreme Court Clerk's Office (614.387.9530), or to contact counsel of record.