Challenge to Lump Sum Advancement Must Be in Court of Claims
Measles v. Indus. Comm. (4/6/11), 128 Ohio St.3d 458, 2011-Ohio-1523.
Issue: Did a Common Pleas Court have jurisdiction to hear a claim against the BWC/Industrial Commission for improperly reducing weekly permanent total awards because of lump sum advancements or was the claim one for money due under a contract which must be fled in the Court of Claims?
Background: Measles and others received a lump sum advancement on their permanent total disability awards. The application for the lump sum advancement provided that payment of the lump sum would reduce weekly benefits for the life of the claim.
Measles, and others who had received such lump sum advancements, filed a lawsuit in common pleas court which claimed that the reduction of weekly benefits based on the lump sum advancements should have stopped when the amount advanced had been paid off. The complaint title called it a “Complaint for Equitable Relief Only” and sought declarative relief, injunctive relief and disgorgement.
The trial court dismissed the complaint, finding that the claim sought money from the state and therefore could only be filed in the Court of Claims. The appellate court reversed, finding that the case involved additional matters than the claim for monetary relief and therefore was an equity action which could be brought in Common Pleas Court. The Industrial Commission and BWC appealed.
Decision: Supreme Court reverses.
The Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction when someone seeks money damages from the state, even if the suit makes additional claims for injunctive or declaratory relief. The Supreme Court finds that the issue in this case is whether the request for restitution is a matter of equity or law. If it is a matter of equity, then this case can be pursued in the Common Pleas court. In a recent decision, Cristino v. Ohio Bur. of Workers’ Comp. (2008), 118 Ohio St.3d 151, 2008-Ohio-2013, the Court found that
If the essence of a claim is not of restitution for money owed under a contract, but instead restitution for the state’s unjust enrichment by withholding funds to which a worker had a statutory right, then the ultimate relief sought is equitable restitution.
The Court finds that this case seeks money due under a contract. Therefore Cristino applies and this case must be filed in the Court of Claims.
Editor’s Comment: As the Supreme Court notes in a footnote in the opinion:
Ohio Adm.Code 4123-3-37 now requires agreements for lump-sum advancements to include “a specific time for the reduction of the biweekly rate of compensation to repay the lump sum advancement” and directs the administrator of BWC to “remove the rate reduction due to the lump sum advancement” after that time passes. Ohio Adm. Code 4123-3-37(B)(3) and (C)(3). That code provision, which became effective December 1, 2004, and which operates prospectively, does not apply to the agreements at issue in this appeal.