As Ohio attorneys who focus on appellate issues, one of the trusty treatises we often consult in our practice is former First District Court of Appeals Judge Mark Painter’s seminal Ohio Appellate Practice handbook, published by Baldwin. If you don’t have it in your library but enjoy appellate work, we highly recommend it. And for years, in the section pertaining to administrative appeals taken under Ohio’s Administrative Procedure Act, commonly known as “Chapter 119 appeals,” Judge Painter’s treatise has noted that certain administrative appeals in Ohio had to be brought in Franklin County, including appeals regarding examinations and licensing by state agencies, and appeals of adjudicatory decisions by the Liquor Control Commission, State Medical Board Chiropractic Examining Board, or Board of Nursing.
Now, as a result of recent legislation from the 135th General Assembly, the Franklin County-centric venue of Chapter 119 administrative appeals is about to change, and this section of Judge Painter’s treatise will need a re-write. As a result of Amended Substitute Senate Bill 21, set to become effective at the end of September, those who seek to appeal from adjudicatory decisions by state agencies will have more flexibility with respect to the venue for their administrative appeals, and the Franklin County Common Pleas Court may start to see fewer of them.
For example, while R.C. 119.12 currently provides that appeals from licensing decisions by the above-mentioned commissions and boards “shall be made to the court of common pleas of Franklin County,” Senate Bill 21 adds “or the court of common pleas in the county in which the place of business of the licensee is located or the county in which the licensee is a resident.”
Bill sponsors and businesses object to mandatory Franklin County venue
What prompted this legislative change, and this shift away from mandatory Franklin County venue for Chapter 119 administrative appeals? The answer can be found in the testimony of the bill sponsors (State Senator Michele Reynolds, and State Senator Rob McColley), as well as supporting testimony from the National Federation of Independent Business. As the bill sponsors put it in testimony before the Ohio House Civil Justice Committee this past March:
Previous General Assemblies have used Franklin County as the default setting for almost all appeals from agency actions, causing the courts in one county to have outsized authority at the expense of those in the remaining 87.
While it is true that current law is a convenience for state agencies who get to defend their decisions in Franklin County, it inconveniences citizens and businesses aggrieved by agency actions by requiring them to travel to Columbus.
The National Federation of Independent Business, in testimony it presented to the Committee on May 9, 2023, added some additional detail about the inconveniences alluded to by the sponsors:
Small businesses have limited resources. It can be particularly onerous for a business owner appealing an agency determination to make the trek to Franklin County. Time away from the business means lost productivity. Our members are struggling to find employees, their time is a precious commodity. So many are taking on additional responsibilities that makes traveling to Columbus a real challenge. The current process may discourage one from appealing a decision.
While it may be attractive to state agencies to continue the status quo, we believe it should be incumbent on state government to make the process of doing business easier. The change to venue contemplated in Senate Bill 21 does just that. Senate Bill 21 may also lead to more expeditious resolution of appeals as it lifts the burden of one court having to hear appeals on behalf of 87 other counties. Further it allows businesses and individuals to have appeals heard in their home county(s) versus the county of the state agencies.
How expanded venues will impact Ohio appeals
It will be interesting to see what kinds of qualitative and quantitative effects Senate Bill 21 may have on Chapter 119 appeals in Ohio. Will the legislation measurably reduce the caseload burden of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, which will no longer be the exclusive venue for certain Chapter 119 appeals? Will the new legislation be welcomed by other county common pleas courts that have not previously had to deal with such administrative appeals? Is it possible that more conflicts will begin to arise between Ohio’s appellate districts regarding the statutes administered by Ohio state agencies?
We sometimes advise clients it is just as important to know the Court as it is the law. Will judges who may have a more personal connection to the outcome of an administrative appeal give it a different look than judges sitting many miles away? This option gives new breath to local decision-making regarding local issues (as opposed to a state agency in Columbus and then a Columbus common pleas court judge). But for now, when advising clients about appellate options from a state agency decision—particularly after the effective date of S.B. 21—be sure you are looking at the most recent version of R.C. 119.12 so you can take advantage of any venue flexibility that may be applicable and helpful to your client.