Court of Claims: 2014 Was an Efficient and Effective Year
Through a streamlined process and a dedicated staff the Ohio Court of Claims was able to yet again reduce expenses and process cases in a timely manner, its leader said.
“The year 2014 was once again a year of continued, steady improvement for the Court of Claims,” said Mark H. Reed, Court of Claims Clerk of Court in its 2014 Annual Report. “The court disposed of more cases than were filed, ensuring that no backlogs have the chance of developing.”
The court recently released its annual report indicating that it took in 1,007 new or reactivated cases in 2014 and closed 1,084 cases, including those from prior years. The measure of incoming cases compared to cases closed is called the “clearance rate,” and is one of the most fundamental ways that a court measures effective case management, according to the report. A rate above 100 percent means a court is operating effectively. The Court of Claims reached a 108 percent clearance rate in 2014.
The court was established in 1975 by the Ohio General Assembly, when it enacted a limited waiver of sovereign immunity giving citizens the right to file civil suits against state agencies. The court is where all civil actions against the state are tried. It employs 21 individuals, and the Oho Supreme Court chief justice traditionally appoints retired judges to serve on the Court of Claims. In 2014, Judges Patrick M. McGrath and Dale A. Crawford, both retired from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, served as the judges. Judges John Bessey and Virgil Sinclair also heard cases in 2014.
Civil actions filed in the Court of Claims are classified as either judicial cases or administrative determinations. Administrative determinations involve claims against the state that are valued at $10,000 or less. In most instances, these cases are resolved by the clerk without a hearing. A party may file a motion to have the clerk’s determination reviewed by a judge of the court, whose decision is final. In the past 10 years, administrative determinations have made up approximately 60 percent of the court’s docket, and were at 58 percent in 2014.
The court received 635 administrative determinations in 2014 and disposed of 702, for a 111 percent clearance rate. Many of these claims are filed by prison inmates, alleging property loss, or “pothole” claims filed by vehicle owners against the Ohio Department of Transportation, the court said.
Judicial cases are resolved through a process led by a magistrate or judge. These cases typically involve contract disputes, property damage, personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, employment, defamation, and wrongful imprisonment. The court received 309 civil cases and disposed of 327 for a 106 percent clearance rate.
Parties have a right to appeal Court of Claims judicial cases to the Tenth District Court of Appeals and may file a discretionary appeal with the Supreme Court. The bulk of the court’s resources are devoted to the processing and adjudication of cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000.
The court also adapted to a change in law that eliminated a level of review of appeals filed by victims of crime who were seeking reparations from the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program. The Attorney General’s Office administers the program and the court hears any appeals of the Attorney General’s determinations. On average, the Court of Claims receives approximately 100 crime victim compensation appeals each year, although filings were down significantly in calendar year 2014, to only 63 appeals. It was the only area where the court received more that it cleared, 55 cases, for an 87 percent clearance rate.
The structural change of removing a level of review of crime victim’s appeals allowed the court to operate effectively with the budget reduction of about $3.18 million in fiscal year 2013 to $2.75 million in 2014 without amassing a backlog. Reed said the court staff is positioned to provide direct services to the public, is implementing electronic filing, and improving access to the court. He attributes much of the success to the staff.
“Most importantly, the court has more than adequate staffing, including a core of dedicated and hardworking employees who have made a career commitment to the organization,” he said.
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