Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

In re D.R., Case No. 2021-0934
First District Court of Appeals (Hamilton County)

Laura Valentine v. Cedar Fair LP, Case No. 2021-0981
Sixth District Court of Appeals (Erie County)

State of Ohio v. Kandle Messenger, Case No. 2021-0944
Tenth District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

State ex rel. Candy Bowling et al. v. Michael DeWine et al., Case No. 2021-1062
Tenth District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

Is Law That Prevents Removal of Juvenile Sex-Offender Classification Fundamentally Unfair?

In re D.R., Case No. 2021-0934
First District Court of Appeals (Hamilton County)

ISSUE: Do the procedures for certain juvenile court hearings described in R.C. 2152.84 comply with state and federal due process rights?

Prosecutors filed a complaint in Hamilton County Juvenile Court alleging that a 16-year-old, identified in court records as D.R., had committed rape. The allegations stemmed from D.R.’s actions with a 12-year-old friend who attended a group sleepover at D.R.’s house.

In an agreement with the prosecutor, D.R. entered a plea in April 2018 admitting to a juvenile offense of gross sexual imposition involving a victim under 13 years old. At D.R.’s disposition hearing, the juvenile court imposed a suspended Department of Youth Services term, and D.R. was placed on probation. He was ordered to stay away from the victim and to complete treatment through a youth sex-offender program.

Because of his age at the time of the offense, the court classified D.R. as a juvenile offender registrant, requiring him to follow certain sex-offender registration duties. He was classified as a tier I offender, the lowest level.

Hearing Held After Juvenile Finishes Steps Imposed by Court
State law requires juvenile courts to hold a hearing when the minor completes the disposition, which is similar to a criminal court’s sentence. At the June 2019 hearing, the magistrate found D.R. had met the conditions imposed on him. The prosecutor noted that a report stated D.R. had access to pornography during his probation. The probation officer explained that issue happened early in his probation, and there were no further concerns after it was discussed with him.

The magistrate placed D.R. on non-reporting probation, and he remained under the tier I classification. The magistrate noted that the court lacked authority under state law to remove D.R.’s tier I juvenile offender classification. D.R. objected to the ongoing classification, but the juvenile court judge adopted the magistrate’s decision, stating that the court “was constrained by current precedent.”

Juvenile courts hold these hearings under R.C. 2152.84. A juvenile court considers the effectiveness of treatment and other conditions, and whether to keep, modify, or end a juvenile offender classification. For minors, such as D.R., who were 16 or 17 at the time of their offense and classified as tier I, the court is not empowered to remove the classification. And a tier I classification can’t be modified because it is the lowest level.

D.R. appealed to the First District Court of Appeals, arguing his ongoing classification violated several of his federal and state constitutional rights – procedural due process, substantive due process, equal protection under the law, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The First District ruled that the continued tier I classification violated D.R.’s procedural due process rights. The appeals court ordered a new hearing in which the juvenile court could decide whether to keep or remove the classification.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which agreed to review the issue.

State Argues Older Offenders Can Request Hearing in Three Years
The prosecutor’s brief states that procedural due process involves determining whether the government’s procedures were adequate when its actions deprive a person of life, liberty, or property. For juveniles alleging due process violations, courts look to whether the process was fundamentally fair.

The prosecutor argues D.R. was given a meaningful hearing under R.C. 2152.84. He was able to present evidence of his progress, and the court took him off of formal probation. The prosecutor notes that D.R. has the opportunity after three years to request another hearing before the juvenile court to ask for removal of the classification. At those later hearings, governed by R.C. 2152.85, D.R. can rely on the record from the earlier hearing to support his request, the prosecutor adds.

This structure ensures that older juvenile sex offenders are subject to a meaningful period of registration before their classification can be removed, the prosecutor maintains. The state concludes that the approach is appropriate and graduated – both protecting the community and giving the juvenile the best chance for success.

Youth Responds That Law Bars Appraisal of Each Juvenile’s Progress
D.R. challenges the constitutionality of a law that gives juvenile courts no discretion to remove a tier I classification regardless of the minor’s progress. Even if a youth demonstrates rehabilitation to the juvenile court at the completion-of-disposition hearing, the juvenile automatically remains a juvenile sex-offender registrant if the juvenile was classified as tier I and 16 or 17 at the time of the offense, D.R. maintains. He notes this isn’t the case for any other child registrant. Juveniles who are subject to mandatory classification as tier II or tier III offenders also remain as registrants, but their tier level can be lowered, he explains. Only those like him, who were classified as tier I, have no options for a modification, he states.

The statute is fundamentally unfair, he argues, because it mandates ongoing classification and registration without meaningful review. In his case, D.R. states, the court couldn’t consider whether he was rehabilitated or his risk of reoffending. The law fails to give a juvenile court discretion to determine an appropriate penalty for children initially classified as mandatory tier I registrants, D.R. asserts. His brief contends that the law prevents an individualized assessment, which “completely undercuts” the juvenile court’s focus on rehabilitation.

Attorney General, Prosecutors, and State Public Defender Submit Arguments
Amicus curiae briefs supporting the Hamilton County prosecutor’s position were submitted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. The Court is allowing the attorney general to participate in oral argument, sharing the time allotted to the county prosecutor.

The Ohio Public Defender’s Office filed an amicus brief supporting D.R.

Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing the State of Ohio from the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office: Paula Adams, 513.946.3228

Representing D. R. from the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office: Jessica Moss, 513.946.8252

Representing the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Benjamin Flowers, 614.466.8980

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Are Amusement Park Season Pass Holders Entitled to Refund for 2020 COVID Closures?

Laura Valentine v. Cedar Fair LP, Case No. 2021-0981
Sixth District Court of Appeals (Erie County)


  • Does a season pass impose a contractual obligation on the pass issuer to open its business during government-ordered closures, making the issuer liable for damages?
  • Is the term “season” ambiguous?

Laura Valentine purchased a 2020 season pass to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky from Cedar Fair, the park’s parent company. The expected opening day for Cedar Point was in May 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the state issued health orders in March 2020 that prohibited amusement parks from opening. The following month, Cedar Fair announced that all 2020 season passes would be in effect for whatever months the park opened in 2020 and also through the 2021 season.

Valentine filed a class-action complaint on behalf of herself and others who purchased a 2020 season pass and weren’t given a refund for the months the park was closed. She claimed the failure to refund season pass holders for the days the pass couldn’t be used breached the contract between pass holders and Cedar Fair. She also argued the failure to issue refunds unjustly enriched the company.

Cedar Fair asked the Erie County Common Pleas Court to dismiss the lawsuit, based on the terms and conditions of the season passes. The amusement park reopened in July 2020 with certain pandemic restrictions for season pass holders. In a September 2020 decision, the trial court agreed with the company’s arguments and dismissed the case.

Valentine appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit. The Sixth District wrote that the season pass agreement couldn’t be interpreted without more evidence. The company appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which accepted the case.

Amusement Park Contends That Pass Allows Adjustments to Open Dates
Cedar Fair points to the terms and conditions of the pass that Valentine purchased. The terms state that the pass “grants a revocable license” to the holder for admission and use of all open rides (with certain safety restrictions), shows, and attractions “on any regularly scheduled operating day of the season….” The terms describe the pass as “non-transferable, nonrefundable, non-exchangeable and not valid for cash.” They also state: “All operating dates and hours are subject to change without notice. All rides and attractions are subject to closings and cancellations for weather or other conditions.”

Cedar Fair’s brief maintains that the pass holders’ rights aren’t absolute, and the pass doesn’t give holders “unfettered access” to the park. The company argues the pass is a revocable license that gives pass holders access to the property pursuant to the license terms. The company compares the season pass to state-issued recreational licenses, such as hunting or fishing licenses, which can be revoked without refund.

The company contends that the Sixth District incorrectly viewed the season pass as a contract. The company argues it isn’t obligated to keep the amusement park open for season pass holders regardless of the circumstances. Even if season passes are considered a contract, Cedar Point opened from July to October, and Cedar Fair offered further benefit by extending 2020 passes through the end of the 2021 season at no additional cost, the company notes. It argues that Valentine and other season pass holders received more than they bargained for when they purchased their 2020 passes, the pass terms weren’t breached, and pass holders suffered no damages by the two-month closure in 2020.

The company also rejects the Sixth District’s conclusion that the word “season” in the terms is ambiguous and requires interpretation at the trial level. The season is clearly understood to be the time of year when the park is available, the company argues. It concludes that it didn’t violate the terms of the agreement by complying with government-ordered closures that temporarily changed the park’s operating dates and hours because of COVID-19.

Season Pass Holder Argues Company Breached Contract
Valentine responds that the season pass is both a revocable license and a contract. When admission to Cedar Point is denied to a season pass holder, a breach of the contract has occurred, and a refund can be a legal remedy for the violation, she contends. She acknowledges that a revocable license gives temporary rights that can be revoked. However, she argues, because the season pass is also a contract, a claim asserting a breach of the contract is permitted.

Although Cedar Point closed in response to government health orders, that action doesn’t entitle the company to keep the money paid by season pass holders when it couldn’t provide what was promised in the contract, Valentine argues. She also maintains that she contracted for access in 2020, so Cedar Fair can’t remedy its breach of the contract by giving season pass holders access in 2021. She contends that the appropriate legal remedy to season pass holders for denial of access to Cedar Point in 2020 is the return of the purchase price.

She also asserts that “season” follows the ordinary meaning – referring to May to October, the well-known period that Cedar Point is normally open. If the term is interpreted as Cedar Fair wants, the company could change the days the park is available to one day a year and call it a “season,” Valentine maintains. That interpretation wouldn’t give the agreement with season pass holders meaning and purpose, or be fair and reasonable, she argues. She adds that if the term is ambiguous, her lawsuit wasn’t permitted to be dismissed.

Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Cedar Fair LP: Taylor Knight, 419.254.1311

Representing Laura Valentine: Nicole Fiorelli, 440.352.3391

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Does Amended Self-Defense Law Require Change in Appellate Court Review Standards?

State of Ohio v. Kandle Messenger, Case No. 2021-0944
Tenth District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

ISSUE: Because of revision to state law, must appellate courts change the standard of review for claims of self-defense from weighing of the evidence to assessing the sufficiency of the evidence?

OVERVIEW: In 2018, the Ohio General Assembly revised the law that addresses when deadly force is used in self-defense. Previously, a defendant had to prove by a preponderance of evidence that self-defense was justified. Effective in 2019, under R.C. 2901.05(B)(1), if a defendant claims self-defense, it is up to the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not justified

The change in law has prompted division among appellate courts on how to assess a conviction where self-defense was claimed but rejected by a jury. The Franklin County Prosecutor  argues in this case that while the law was revised, the traditional rules for courts to review the conviction remained the same. A Columbus man claiming self-defense in the murder of his stepbrother argues the change in law requires using a different standard of review, which is significant because it gives the defendant a better chance of being acquitted of the crime, the man notes.

In 2019, Kandle Messenger lived in a Columbus home with his stepbrother, Richard Pack Jr., until Pack and his girlfriend, Samantha Anderson, had a dispute. Pack moved out. Pack’s sister and fiancé also lived in the home. In February 2019, Messenger was confronted by his girlfriend, who found text messages on Messenger’s phone indicating he was having an affair with Anderson.

Pack had suspected Anderson was having an affair and told Messenger he would kill the man who was involved with his girlfriend. Messenger didn’t tell Pack at the time that he was the other man. After Pack was alerted that Messenger was involved with Anderson, he went to the home they previously shared and brought Messenger and Anderson into the living room of the house. He confronted the two, and when Messenger admitted the affair, Pack beat Messenger, cutting Messenger’s lip. Pack and Messenger left the home. Messenger returned with a handgun.

Fight Leads to Shooting
When Messenger returned to the home, Anderson was in her car in the driveway. He began to lean against the window to speak to Anderson. Pack jumped over a neighbor’s fence and surprised the two. Pack insisted the three go inside. From a distance, Messenger revealed to Pack that he was armed. Pack asked Messenger if he was going to shoot him. Messenger replied he wasn’t, and Pack told Messenger to put the gun away.

The three entered the property and locked the doors. Pack was standing across the living room from Messenger when he again confronted the two about the affair. Messenger stated that Pack approached him asking for a hug. Messenger said he was aware that Pack recently completed firearm training for security guards. Pack had previously told Messenger that during his security training, he developed the skills of disarming an armed person. Messenger insisted Pack keep his distance, and when Pack continued to approach him, he shot Pack 14 times. Pack died.

Messenger was charged with two counts of murder for killing Pack. He argued he shot Pack in self-defense. The jury convicted Messenger of the purposeful murder of Pack, and he was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison. Messenger appealed his conviction to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, raising several legal arguments.

The Tenth District affirmed the trial court’s decision, and Messenger appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The Supreme Court agreed to review one of Messenger’s legal issues, which considers the appropriate level of review the Tenth District applied when evaluating his case.

Standards of Review for Appeals Courts
The parties indicate the manner in which an appeals court reviews a criminal conviction is significant. Under a “manifest weight of the evidence” review, a jury’s verdict can only be overturned by a unanimous three-member panel of appellate court judges. If a verdict is reversed under the manifest-weight review, the defendant is entitled to a new trial, the parties note. Under a “sufficiency of the evidence” review, only a two-judge majority is required to overturn a jury verdict. If a verdict is reversed under a sufficiency review, the defendant is acquitted of the charges and cannot be retried.

Self-Defense Claims Entitled to Sufficiency Review, Offender Argues
Messenger notes that under the former version of the law, self-defense was an affirmative defense. In cases where affirmative defenses are raised, the defendant must prove that the use of force was justified by a preponderance of evidence. Courts of appeals review affirmative defenses under the manifest-weight standard of review. Under a manifest-weight review, the appeals court sits as a “thirteenth juror” and independently reviews the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses , Messenger notes. The appeals court overturns a jury verdict only if it finds “the jury clearly lost its way and created a manifest miscarriage of justice,” Messenger explains.

Under a sufficiency review, the appeals court evaluates the evidence to assure the prosecution proved every element of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, Messenger notes. Affirmative defenses are not part of the crime, and don’t undergo a sufficiency review, Messenger explains.

Now that the law has changed, self-defense is no longer an affirmative defense to the charge of using deadly force, Messenger asserts. Self-defense is now a lawful act, and it is up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Messenger didn’t act in self-defense. Self-defense must be treated the same as an “element of the crime,” he asserts, so an appeals court must assess if Franklin County prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn’t act in self-defense when he shot Pack.

Messenger maintains that not only did he testify he acted in self-defense, but Anderson and Pack’s sister and fiancé also testified that they heard Messenger warn Pack to stay away from him before he shot Pack. Messenger maintains there was insufficient evidence to prove he didn’t act in self-defense. He should be acquitted, he concludes.

Review Standards Didn’t Change, Prosecutor Asserts
The prosecutor’s office argues the law didn’t change self-defense from an affirmative defense to a lawful act, but instead switched the burden of proof for a self-defense claim to the prosecution. The office cites R.C. 2901.05(A) of the self-defense law, which states, “The burden of going forward with the evidence of an affirmative defense, and the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, for an affirmative defense other than self-defense, defense of another, or defense of the accused’s residence presented as described in division (B)(1) of this section, is upon the accused.”

The prosecutor argues the law clearly includes self-defense as an affirmative defense, but changes the burden of proof. That means the appeals court’s standard of review hasn’t changed, and a manifest-weight review still applies, the prosecutor maintains.

The prosecutor argues that Messenger admitted Pack didn’t have a gun, and that Messenger was the one who locked the door to the house as he was the last of the three to enter. The prosecutor also said a neighbor testified to seeing the three go into the house and heard the gunshots within seconds of the door closing. The office maintains the jury could reasonably believe Messenger created the dangerous situation and cannot claim self-defense. Because the jury didn’t clearly lose its way, the Tenth District used the appropriate review standard and properly affirmed the jury’s verdict, the office concludes.

Friend-of-the Court Brief Submitted
An amicus curiae brief supporting the prosecutor’s position has been submitted by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing the State of Ohio from the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office: Seth Gilbert, 614.525.3555

Representing Kandle Messenger: Kort Gattterdam, 614.365.4100

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Was Governor Authorized to Stop Federal COVID-19 Unemployment Compensation?

State ex rel. Candy Bowling et al. v. Michael DeWine et al., Case No. 2021-1062
Tenth District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

ISSUE: Does R.C. 4141.43(I) compel Ohio’s governor to participate in all federal unemployment compensation programs created by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act?

The U.S. Congress passed the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020. In response to the disruption of the country’s economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislation increased unemployment benefits available under federal law. The act implemented three types of benefits, including the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. The program added $600 per week to the unemployment benefits a worker could receive. Congress reduced the additional benefit in December 2020 to $300 extra each week.

To participate in CARES Act programs, a state had to enter an agreement with the U.S. secretary of labor. Governor Mike DeWine made an agreement with the Department of Labor in March 2020.

In May 2021, the governor, noting that employers were struggling to fill jobs, announced that Ohio would stop participating in the FPUC program. He stated the additional FPUC benefits were discouraging some people from returning to work. He sent a letter to the Department of Labor to withdraw Ohio from the program effective June 26, 2021.

Individuals Whose Unemployment Benefits Were Stopped Sue State
Candy Bowling, Shawnee Huff, and David Willis were receiving the additional CARES Act unemployment benefits when the state’s participation in the FPUC program ended. They filed a lawsuit in July 2021 against the governor and Matt Damschroder, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (JFS).

The Franklin County Common Pleas Court rejected the unemployed workers’ requests for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop the termination of the benefits. The court disagreed that the governor and the JFS director had acted outside the scope of their authority under R.C. 4141.43(I), which states:

“The director [of job and family services] shall cooperate with the United States department of labor to the fullest extent consistent with this chapter, and shall take such action, through the adoption of appropriate rules, regulations, and administrative methods and standards, as may be necessary to secure to this state and its citizens all advantages available under the provisions of the ‘Social Security Act’ that relate to unemployment compensation, the ‘Federal Unemployment Tax Act,’ (1970) …, the ‘Wagner-Peyser Act,’ (1933) …, the ‘Federal-State Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 1970,’ …, and the ‘Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act,’ ….”

The unemployed workers appealed to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s decision. The governor and director appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which accepted the case.

State Argues Governor Decides Whether to Participate in Federal Program
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the governor and the JFS director, argues that R.C. 4141.43(I) doesn’t force a governor to accept all federal unemployment funds. The attorney general maintains that the state has the option to participate in the federal programs. If the state does so, then the statute requires the JFS director to implement rules and other standards to obtain the federal benefits, the attorney general argues.

The state’s brief contends that the statute is designed to ensure that Ohio doesn’t lose federal aid by neglecting to put in place rules and procedures that are conditions for receiving that aid from the federal government. However, the brief maintains, the governor didn’t violate the law by no longer participating in the FPUC program. 

The attorney general also argues that even if the statute compelled Ohio to accept certain federal funds, it doesn’t apply to CARES Act money. R.C. 4141.43(I) lists five specific federal programs, and the CARES Act, including FPUC, isn’t one of them, the attorney general maintains.

The state also disputes the Tenth District’s view that the governor trampled on the General Assembly’s powers in the Ohio Constitution to pass laws “fixing and regulating the hours of labor, establishing a minimum wage, and providing for the comfort, health, safety and general welfare of all employees.” The state counters that the argument incorrectly assumes the governor violated the statute by withdrawing Ohio from the FPUC program.

Unemployed Workers Counter State Must Maximize Unemployment Benefits
The unemployed workers assert that the General Assembly enacted R.C. 4141.43 under its exclusive constitutional authority to legislate matters about employee welfare. They argue the statute directs the executive branch, through the JFS director, to maximize all benefits for unemployment for Ohioans. Nothing in the law suggests that the governor had the discretion to limit these benefits, the unemployed workers maintain. They argue the governor lacked the power to terminate the agreement with the Department of Labor. He needed to obtain the legislature’s consent, they assert.

Quoting the statute, the unemployed workers also contend that FPUC falls within the available federal benefits that “relate to unemployment compensation” under either the Social Security Act or the Federal-State Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 1970 – which are both listed in R.C. 4141.43. The FPUC benefits cannot be untangled from other unemployment benefits because the CARES Act expanded on other unemployment programs, they argue. They maintain that FPUC benefits increased normal unemployment benefits provided under the Social Security Act or the 1970 Federal-State Extended Unemployment Compensation Act (via two other CARES Act programs). No one received FPUC benefits alone, they note.

The unemployed workers maintain that it would be wasteful and inefficient for the JFS director to spend time and money to adopt rules and procedures required for the federal programs with only the possibility that the governor might seek funding through them. Reading the statute liberally to achieve its objectives, the state must take steps to actually secure all available federal funds for unemployment benefits for Ohioans, the unemployed workers conclude.

Cases Draws Opinions From Business and Legal Groups
Amicus curiae briefs supporting the governor and JFS director were submitted by the Buckeye Institute and collectively by the following organizations:

  • Ohio Business Roundtable
  • Ohio Chamber of Commerce
  • Ohio Council of Retail Merchants
  • Ohio Farm Bureau Federation
  • Ohio Grocers Association
  • Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association
  • Ohio Manufacturers’ Association
  • Ohio Restaurant Association
  • Ohio Trucking Association

The following organizations filed a joint amicus brief supporting Bowling and other unemployed workers:

  • Advocates for Basic Legal Equality
  • Community Legal Aid Services
  • Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
  • Legal Aid Society of Columbus
  • Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati
  • Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio
  • Legal Aid of Western Ohio
  • Ohio Employment Lawyers Association
  • Ohio Poverty Law Center
  • Policy Matters Ohio
  • Southeastern Ohio Legal Services

Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Governor Mike DeWine and Matt Damschroder, director of the Department of Job and Family Services, from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Benjamin Flowers, 614.466.8980

Representing Candy Bowling et al.: Brian Flick, 216.373.0539

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 aren’t part of the case record, and aren’t considered by the Court during its deliberations.

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