In the 10th District Court of Appeals, a panel of three judges recently ruled that a Marion Correctional Institution inmate could not appeal the transfer of his case to a different docket.
The inmate, Jeffrey Woods, appealed from the entry of the Ohio Court of Claims which transferred to the administrative docket the case that he filed against the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Woods’ action against the ODRC alleged that five department employees wrongly withdrew funds from his inmate account after they convinced him that he owed $167 in filing fees related to a prior action in the common pleas court.
Woods also claimed that the employees withdrew the funds as retaliation based on his underlying convictions for sex-related crimes. He claimed damages of $2,500 from each of the five employees.
The Court of Claims ultimately dismissed the retaliation claims but kept the claims relating to the removal of funds, granting a motion from the ODRC to transfer them to the administrative docket which deals with claims against the state for less than $10,000.
According to Woods, the court transferred the claims in error because the administrative clerk “does not have subject matter jurisdiction to determine the civil complaint.”
In opposition, the ODRC contended that the transfer of the case was not a final appealable order and therefore, the 10th District Court lacked the authority to hear the appeal.
Writing on behalf of the district court’s three-judge appellate panel, Judge Susan Brown noted that the Ohio Constitution limits an appellate court’s jurisdiction to final orders which, by definition, dispose of all or part of a case.
“An appellate court must dismiss an appeal taken from an order that is not final and appealable,” Brown wrote.
Following a two-prong analysis set forth by the Ohio Supreme Court, the appellate panel first determined that the Court of Claims did not address any of the merits of the case relating to Woods’ assertion that the employees withdrew his money from his inmate account.
“The court merely transferred the matter to the administrative docket,” Brown wrote. “The court’s action did not affect a substantial right that determined the action or prevented a judgment for appellant.”
Additionally, the appellate panel noted that, due to the amount of money involved, the clerk of courts is statutorily required to determine the case administratively. After the clerk issue a decision, statute permits Woods to file a motion for the Court of Claims to review the determination.
“Here, the clerk of court’s administrative determination will resolve appellant’s current argument as to the proper amount of his claim,” Brown wrote. “Whether appellant’s action was under the $10,000 threshold, as the court found, or above the $10,000 threshold, as appellant claims, will be apparent by the clerk of court’s decision.”
Brown also noted that the Court of Claims is “a creature of statute” and Woods’ “review and exclusive remedy lay with, and is confined to, the statutory process.”
“Accordingly, we dismiss appellant’s appeal for lack of a final, appealable order,” Brown concluded.
She was joined by Judges Julia Dorian and Betsy Luper Schuster to form the majority.
The case is cited Woods v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 2017-Ohio-1022.