Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

ECOT Continues Appeals of $60 Million Refund Order

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The state education department found that online school ECOT was funded $109 million but could prove less than half of the student participation for that funding.

Image of a chalkboard

The state education department found that online school ECOT was funded $109 million but could prove less than half of the student participation for that funding.  

A shuttered online school is making a new attempt to overturn a state education department order to refund tens of millions of taxpayer dollars paid to the school.

The Ohio Department of Education determined in 2016 that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) could prove less than 50% of the student participation it reported for the 2015-2016 school year. The online community school received $108.9 million in state funding that school year based on its reported numbers. The education department calculated that ECOT was overpaid by about $64 million, and the e-school was ordered to refund that amount.

Online School Files Three Legal Challenges in Court
Before the department had finished its review of ECOT’s data, the e-school filed a lawsuit disputing the calculation method, which relies on the number of students and the duration of participation time online. Its claims were rejected at the trial court, appellate court, and the Ohio Supreme Court. (“State Can Measure E-School Attendance with Student Participation Data.”)

Following the department’s decision in September 2016 that ECOT had been overpaid roughly $64 million, the e-school filed an administrative appeal with the Ohio State Board of Education. The hearing officer considered 10 days of arguments and evidence. After adjusting the student participation percentage, from 41.2% to 44.6%, the hearing officer ruled in favor of the education department. The adjusted refund amount was $60.35 million. The state board upheld the decision.

In June 2017, ECOT sued in two courts to challenge the board’s decision.

ECOT filed a lawsuit directly with the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for a writ of prohibition to block the board’s decision and a writ of mandamus to order that it was entitled to the funding it received for the 2015-2016 school year. In a 6-1 ruling in September 2017, the Supreme Court dismissed the case without an opinion.

ECOT also appealed the board’s decision in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. ECOT submitted the appeal based on rights in state law under R.C. Chapter 119. In October 2017, the trial court dismissed the case, finding ECOT could appeal the board’s determination only through a mandamus action, not under R.C. Chapter 119.

On appeal with the Tenth District Court of Appeals, the e-school first won, then lost when the court reconsidered the case. ECOT, which closed in January 2018, appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

E-School Argues It Has Right to Appeal Education Department Decision This Way
ECOT notes that a state law governing the education department – R.C. 3301.13 – clearly states appeals of education department decisions may be made under R.C. Chapter 119, which allows appeals of state agency decisions to common pleas courts.

R.C. 3314.08(K), which is specifically about appeals of education department reviews of community school enrollment, notes, “Any decision made by the board under this division is final.” ECOT argues that when something is “final” in the legal field, it typically is referring to the time at which a case can be appealed. An appeals court has no jurisdiction to hear a case until the lower court’s order is final, ECOT states.

ECOT concludes that once the state board issued its decision, the decision was final and the e-school could appeal to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. The e-school maintains it pursued a proper avenue for appeal and asks the Court to return the case to the trial court for consideration.

State Education Agencies Contend ECOT’s Only Appeal Right Was to Supreme Court
The state board and education department argue the meaning of “final” is “not appealable,” pointing to Tenth District decisions barring appeals from administrative agency decisions when state law stated the decisions were final. The state board and education department maintain that a final decision can be appealed only if the relevant statute explicitly allows appeals. In this case, R.C. 3314.08(K) states only that the education board’s decision is final, not that it’s appealable, so the decision cannot be appealed, the agencies contend.

The only way ECOT could appeal the board’s decision was the mandamus action filed with the Court, and that lawsuit was dismissed in 2017, the agencies argue.

Oral Argument Details
In three days of oral arguments next week, the Supreme Court will consider 9 cases. Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow vs. Ohio State Board of Education is the first of two cases on March 2. The Court will hear four cases on March 3 and three cases on March 4. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m.

Because of the coronavirus health emergency, the Court will hold its session by videoconference. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live, and archived, on The Ohio Channel.

In addition to these highlights, the Court’s Office of Public Information released preview articles today about each case, available through the case-name links.

Tuesday, March 2
In October 2017, a Lawrence County man confessed to killing his cousin, her 8-year-old son, and her parents before leading law enforcement officials on a three-day manhunt. After a jury was selected, the man informed his attorneys that he wanted to waive his right to a jury and plead guilty to the charges, which included death penalty specifications. The trial judge questioned whether the man was mentally competent to plead guilty, but no exams were conducted before he was sentenced to death. In State v. Lawson, the man argues his constitutional rights were violated because the court failed to adequately assess his mental competency before he pleaded guilty.

Wednesday, March 3
A trial judge imposed a nine-year prison sentence followed by five years of postrelease control on a Cuyahoga County man in 2008. Ten years later, at the man’s sex offender registration hearing, a prosecutor noted that the judge in 2008 didn’t tell the man that the PRC sentence was mandatory, nor did he explain the consequences for violations of PRC. The 2018 court corrected the error. In State v. Bates, the man appeals the 2018 correction, arguing the PRC sentence must be vacated because it wasn’t properly imposed in 2008 and the prosecutor didn’t appeal the error. The prosecutor counters that the defendant had to challenge the error in a direct appeal.

In 2015, a drunk teenager was taken to the hospital after his concerned mother called 911. A Niles police officer was sent to the hospital to secure the teen because he had become a suspect in the murder of his 94-year-old neighbor. Without a warrant, the officer took the teen’s boxer shorts, socks, and a washcloth the nurse used to clean the teen. The youth, who is now an adult, argues in State v. LaRosa that the seizure was unconstitutional because the hospital staff had a duty to protect his belongings and had no authority to give his property to the police. The prosecutor maintains the state didn’t direct the seizure of the clothing and the items were potential evidence of a crime.

Concerns about pressure in a natural gas pipeline dropping below the minimum to ensure safe gas delivery prompted a natural gas company to construct a 4.9-mile pipeline extension in Delaware County. The company then sought a rate increase from its existing customers. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel argues in In re Application of Suburban Natural Gas Company that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio should have allowed only a rate increase to cover two miles of the $8.9 million pipeline extension because that was the only portion “used and useful” to customers. While the consumer advocate suggests the rest of the extension was built for use by future customers who should pay more of the pipeline costs, the commission and the company maintain the timing of the rate increase was appropriate.

In Disciplinary Counsel v. Deters, the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law recommends a $13,000 penalty for a former attorney who is permanently retired from practicing law in Ohio. The board determined the retired lawyer gave legal advice to a married couple he was trying to keep as clients at the law firm where he works as an office manager and paralegal. The retired attorney maintains it is unclear what constitutes the unauthorized practice of law and paralegals across the state regularly take actions like he did in this case.

Thursday, March 4
State v. Brinkman is a direct appeal of a death sentence imposed on a man convicted of killing a friend and the friend’s two daughters in North Royalton. The man waived his right to a jury and pled guilty to a three-judge panel. Among his 13 legal arguments, the man maintains that a jury had to hear the mitigation phase of his trial. He also contends that the trial court failed to inform him of all the rights he was waiving by pleading guilty and that it was prejudicial to him when hundreds of photographs were admitted into evidence but not presented in court.

A supplier of ingredients used to add color to glass bottles sent contaminated materials to a Toledo-area bottlemaker, which had to destroy 1,850 tons of bottles because of safety concerns. When threatened with a lawsuit by the bottlemaker, the ingredient supplier filed a claim with its insurer seeking coverage under two policies. The insurance company denied the claim, finding that its commercial general liability and commercial umbrella insurance policies cover only accidents, and not the faulty oversight of the production process, which led to the sale of contaminated ingredients. In Motorists Mutual Insurance v. Ironics, the Court will consider if the ingredient sale constitutes an “occurrence,” as defined in the insurance policy, that triggers coverage.

A Medina lawyer, whose alleged mishandling of a child support modification case twice contributed to his client spending time in jail, objects to a proposed 18-month suspension with 12 months stayed. In Disciplinary Counsel v. Barbera, the disciplinary counsel argues some of the lawyer’s professional misconduct took place while he was on probation following a 2017 suspension. The lawyer admits to several of the infractions, but argues that a one-year, fully stayed suspension is appropriate because that is what the Court has imposed on other lawyers who committed similar rule violations.