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Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Borrower’s Writ of Mandamus and Prohibition Challenges to Foreclosure

ohio supreme courtThe Supreme Court of Ohio recently affirmed the dismissal of a borrower’s complaint for a writ of mandamus and a writ of prohibition filed against the successor to trial court judges who presided over a foreclosure action in which judgment was entered against the borrower.

In so ruling, the Supreme Court held that the appellate court properly dismissed the borrower’s mandamus claim because the trial court had already ruled on the motions cited in his complaint, and dismissal of his prohibition claim was appropriate because the borrower had adequate remedies through defense of the foreclosure action and appeal of the foreclosure judgment.

A copy of the opinion in State ex rel. Nyamusevya v. Hawkins is available at:  Link to Opinion.

In 2013, a mortgagee was granted summary judgment against a borrower in a foreclosure action initiated in 2010.  The borrower appealed the judgment, and on appeal the 10th District Court of Appeals for Franklin County affirmed the mortgagee’s standing to maintain the foreclosure action, but reversed judgment, in part, finding issues of material fact in the amount owed on the borrower’s mortgage loan and remanding for a trial to determine this amount. 

Following conclusion of the first appeal, the Supreme Court did not accept the borrower’s appeal of the Tenth District’s affirmation of the mortgagee’s standard and dismissed an original action in mandamus and prohibition filed in the Supreme Court.

Trial on the damages and amounts owed proceeded on remand wherein the borrower appeared, asserted that the court lacked judicial power to conduct the trial and walked out.  The trial court entered a judgment on directed verdict in the full amount the mortgagee claimed was owed, which was appealed by the borrower. 

This second appeal was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit, noting that it had already determined that the mortgagee possessed standing and that the trial court properly applied the law. 

Meanwhile, the borrower filed several post-judgment filings in the underlying foreclosure action, a request to stay the judgment from the court of appeals and a bankruptcy petition to prevent the sale of his home.

In April 2019, the borrower filed the underlying complaint for writ of mandamus and writ of prohibition in the Tenth Circuit against the successor judge to the judges who presided over the foreclosure action, which the judge sought to dismiss.  After a stay of the action was lifted following entry of discharge in the borrower’s bankruptcy proceedings, in January 2020, the Tenth District’s assigned magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the mandamus action on the basis that the borrower’s motions in the foreclosure action had already been ruled on explicitly or were implicitly overruled by the foreclosure judgment. 

Dismissal of the prohibition claim was also recommended on the ground that the court of appeals had already ruled on the issue of the trial court’s jurisdiction when it overruled the borrower’s standing argument in his first appeal. 

Over the borrower’s objections, the Tenth Circuit adopted the magistrate’s recommendation and dismissed the action in April 2010.  The borrower appealed as of right.  

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio initially rejected the borrower’s argument that denial of relief would prejudice him because the court of appeals had not yet ruled on his appeal of the foreclosure action judgment as moot, because the Tenth Circuit issued its decision on Oct. 22, 2020 affirming judgment in the mortgagee’s favor. 

The Supreme Court’s opinion then addressed the borrower’s remaining arguments alleging defects in the foreclosure action that he claimed deprived the court of jurisdiction. 

Turning first to the elements required for the borrower to demonstrate entitlement to a writ of mandamus — i.e., a clear legal right to the requested relief, a clear legal duty on the part of the trial court judge to grant that relief, and the lack of an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law — the Supreme Court acknowledged that it has recognized that “mandamus (or procedendo) may lie when a defendant files a motion and the trial court fails or refuses to rule on the motion at all.” State ex rel. Simmons v. Breaux, 160 Ohio St.3d 223, 2020-Ohio-3251, 155 N.E.3d 857, ¶ 11.

Although the trial and appellate courts relied primarily on the principal that the entry of judgment implicitly overruled the pending motions, the motion and addenda referred to in the borrower’s writ complaint were filed after entry of final judgment in the foreclosure action. 

Nevertheless, upon review of the trial court’s docket, the Supreme Court held that the borrower’s mandamus claim was moot, because the borrower’s postjudgment motion to withdraw his property from the sheriff’s foreclosure sale was considered and denied by the foreclosure action court.  Accordingly, the appellate court’s dismissal of the mandamus claim was appropriate.

Next, to demonstrate the borrower was entitled to a writ of prohibition preventing the presiding judge from “further prosecuting” the foreclosure case, the borrower was required to prove that (1) the trial judge exercised judicial power, (2) the exercise of judicial power by entering judgment in the foreclosure case was unauthorized by law, and (3) denying the writ would result in injury for which no other adequate remedy exists in the ordinary course of law.  Dismissal of [a] prohibition complaint… is appropriate if, after presuming the truth of all factual allegations of the complaint and making all reasonable inferences in [the relator’s] favor, it appears beyond doubt that he can prove no set of facts entitling him to the requested extraordinary writ of prohibition.”

Here, the appellate court dismissed the prohibition claim on the grounds that it had already determined that the mortgagee had standing to maintain the foreclosure action in the first appeal—in effect, for res judicata. 

While noting that res judicata is not a proper basis for dismissal for failure to state a claim (Neguse, 161 Ohio St.3d 125, 2020-Ohio-3533, 161 N.E.3d 571, at ¶ 10), the Supreme Court determined that dismissal was appropriate on alternative grounds. The Supreme Court rejected the borrower’s arguments that the foreclosure action court lacked authority to enter judgment because of a defect in the court’s “preliminary judicial report” and failure to file a “final judicial report,” reasoning that these errors and omissions may furnish the basis for dismissal or reversal of judgment on appeal, but not a basis for a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction as argued by the borrower.  

Because the Supreme Court concluded that the borrower’s mandamus claim was rendered moot by the trial court’s rulings on the motion and addenda cited therein and he failed to state a claim for writ of prohibition because adequate remedies existed in defending the foreclosure action and appealing the trial court’s adverse judgment, the appellate court’s dismissal of his complaint for a writ of mandamus and a writ of prohibition against the foreclosure action judge was affirmed.

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Christopher P. Hahn practices in Maurice Wutscher’s Commercial Litigation, Consumer Credit Litigation and Insurance Recovery and Advisory groups. Prior to joining Maurice Wutscher LLP, he served under the General Counsel at the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. He also obtained extensive experience litigating property insurance claims through all phases of discovery, motion practice and other pre-trial activities. Christopher obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California, followed by his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Miami School of Law. He is also a graduate of the University of Miami’s Masters of Business Administration program, completing his degree with an emphasis on finance and mergers and acquisitions. For more information, see https://mauricewutscher.com/attorneys/christopher-p-hahn/

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