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Law Creating Substantive Right That Conflicts With Court Rule Upheld As Constitutional

2004-1465. State ex rel. Loyd v. Lovelady, 2006-Ohio-161.
Cuyahoga App. No. 83090, 2004-Ohio-3617. Judgment affirmed.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-161.pdf

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(Feb. 1, 2006) In a 7-0 decision announced today, the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld as constitutional a state law enacted in 2000 that creates a substantive right for men against whom paternity judgments have been entered to obtain relief from those judgments through DNA testing “notwithstanding” their failure to comply with one of the Supreme Court's Rules of Civil Procedure.

Today's decision, authored by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, affirms a ruling by the 8th District Court of Appeals that the statutory provisions in question, R.C. 3119.961 et seq., do not violate the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of state government.

Under the Ohio Constitution, the Supreme Court has exclusive authority to “prescribe rules governing practice and procedure in all courts of the state, which rules shall not abridge, enlarge or modify any substantive right.” Under that authority, the Court has adopted Ohio Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure, which are binding on all state courts and all parties in legal actions brought in state court. These include Civ.R.60(B), which states that, after the entry of a final judgment or court order, parties seeking relief from that judgment or order must in most cases file a motion for relief within one year or waive (forfeit) the right to do so in the future.

In 2000, the General Assembly enacted R.C.3119.96., requiring that, “notwithstanding the provisions to the contrary in Civil Rule 60(B)” Ohio courts must accept and process motions for relief from paternity judgments and child support orders if genetic testing undertaken within six months prior to the filing of the motion for relief shows there is a zero probability that the tested person is the biological father of the child in question.

This case involves a motion filed by Gregory Lovelady of Cleveland in February 2003 seeking relief from a 1996 paternity judgment and child support order obtained against him by the Cuyahoga Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) on behalf of Willa Loyd and Loyd's child, identified in court records by the initials D.L. After Lovelady failed either to appear at court proceedings or submit pleadings disputing Loyd's paternity claim, the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court ordered him to pay Loyd $89.37 per week in child support. Lovelady did not file objections or move for relief from the final judgment of the court within the one-year time limit set by Civ.R. 60(B).

When Lovelady subsequently failed to comply with the support order, CSEA pursued a protracted series of enforcement actions against him that culminated in a May 2001 contempt citation and court order that he pay Loyd more than $20,000 in child support arrearages and reimburse the state for past care of D.L. and Loyd's maternity expenses. In February 2003, Lovelady filed a motion for relief from the child support order under the provisions of R.C. 3119.96. His motion was accompanied by DNA test results taken within the preceding six months that indicated he could not be the biological father of D.L.

The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court denied Lovelady's motion for relief from judgment, holding that R.C. 3119.96 was unconstitutional and that Lovelady's motion was barred because it was not filed within the Civ.R. 60(B) time limit. Lovelady appealed, and the 8th District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling. The court of appeals held that R.C. 3119.961 does not violate the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches because it is not procedural in nature, but rather recognizes a substantive right to relief from liability for child support when scientific testing proves that a judgment obligor could not be the child's biological father.

Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court in today's decision, Justice Pfeifer noted that judicial analysis of any legislative enactment must begin with a presumption that it is constitutional, and said that in interpreting this statute, the Court's principal focus was on legislative intent. “If the legislature intended the enactment to be substantive, then no intrusion on this court's exclusive authority over procedural matters has occurred,” wrote Justice Pfeifer.

“In this case, it is not clear from the statute itself whether it was intended to be substantive or procedural. Fortunately, we have a clear and unambiguous statement from the General Assembly that is directly on point. … Section 3 of H.B. No. 242 (the bill enacting a previous version of R.C. 3119.961 et seq.) provided that ‘the General Assembly hereby declares that it is a person's … substantive right to obtain relief from a final judgment, court order or administrative determination or order that … requires the person to pay child support for a child.'”

Based on that plain statement of intent, Justice Pfeifer wrote “R.C. 3119.961 et seq. were enacted to make it less likely that a person would be forced to support a child that is not his. Thus, even though R.C. 3119.961 and 3119.962 are necessarily packaged in procedural wrapping, it is clear to us that the General Assembly intended to create a substantive right to address potential injustice. … Accordingly, we conclude that R.C. 3119.961 et seq. do not conflict with Civ.R. 60(B) in such a way as to violate the separation of powers required by … the Ohio Constitution.”

While affirming the 8th District's ruling on the separation of powers issue, Justice Pfeifer noted that Lovelady's motion for relief from judgment must now go back to the trial court for adjudication under the terms and conditions of R.C. 3119.962.

Timothy G. Spackman, 216.443.5807, for the Cuyahoga Support Enforcement Agency.

Phyllis E. Brooks, 216.502.0800, for Gregory Lovelady.