• Practice Areas • Practices • Taxpayer lawsuits in Ohio
When a city or county misuses taxpayer funds, fails to perform any of its duties and responsibilities, or engages in illegal activity, a taxpayer may bring suit against it. R.C. 733.59; R.C. 309.13.
To bring a suit against a city or county for failing to perform its duties or misusing taxpayer funds, a taxpayer of that entity must first make a written request to the city solicitor, city law director, or county prosecutor to take action. R.C. 733.59; R.C. 309.13. These are often known as “taxpayer demands.”
The taxpayer may only bring suit after the city solicitor, city law director, or county prosecutor has refused or failed to take action in response to the request. R.C. 733.59; Ampt v. City of Cincinnati, 15 Ohio Dec. 237, 244 (1904). But if the city solicitor, city law director, or county prosecutor are “parties to the wrong . . . will not bring an action, or both,” the taxpayer may bring suit without first requesting their assistance. State ex rel. Nimon v. Village of Springdale, 6 Ohio St. 2d 1, 5 (1966). When a taxpayer brings an action, courts presume that the taxpayer brings their action in the interest of the public and in good faith. Coleman ex rel. State v. Munger, 84 Ohio App. 148, 150 (2d Dist. 1948).
Taxpayers can’t bring a suit for their sole benefit, or the benefit of the few. State ex rel. Teamsters Local Union 436 v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Commrrs., 132 Ohio St.3d 47, 50, 2012-Ohio-1861, ¶ 12. While taxpayers may personally benefit from the action, their action must primarily “aim . . . to enforce a public right [or benefit].” State ex rel. Caspar v. City of Dayton, 53 Ohio St.3d 16, 20 (1990); State ex rel. White v. Cleveland, 34 Ohio. St.2d 37, 40 (1973). In their suit, a taxpayer may seek monetary benefits or more “intangible” benefits like preventing illegal government activity. Billington v. Cotner, 37 Ohio St.2d 17, 19 (1974).
Courts award attorneys’ fees in taxpayer suits. R.C. 733.61. To recover attorneys’ fees, a court must find that the taxpayer had “good cause to believe” their complaint was “well-founded” or “sufficient in law.” State ex rel. Harris v. Rubino, 156 Ohio St.3d 296, 302, 2018-Ohio-5109, ¶ 22 (Kennedy, J., concurring). Courts award attorneys’ fees because doing so achieves the underlying purpose of the taxpayer-demand statutes—providing relief to taxpayers. Id. at 316.
The Chandra Law Firm LLC has achieved our clients’ objectives in taxpayer actions. A few examples of our successes in taxpayer actions include:
- Stopping an Ohio state representative from holding dual offices to serve illegally as a Donald Trump Electoral College member. Deborah Cain and Andrew DiLiddo, residents of Ohio’s 50th State House District, filed a complaint against State Representative Christina Hagan for violating Article II, Section 4 of Ohio’s Constitution. That provision bars current Ohio General Assembly members from holding more than one public office. While she held office as a member of the General Assembly, Representative Hagan also served as a member of the presidential Electoral College. By holding dual public offices, Representative Hagan violated Article II, Section 4 of the Ohio Constitution. Because of Ms. Cain and Mr. DiLiddo’s demand—and on the verge of being removed from office—Representative Hagan abruptly resigned from the presidential Electoral College.
- Removing an official from office for misconduct. Vincent Davila, a Trumbull county taxpayer, filed suit against Trumbull County Engineer David DeChristofaro for misconduct. While Trumbull County Engineer, Mr. DeChristofaro used taxpayer supplies and government labor to fund his election-campaign activities. Once the Ohio attorney general began investigating him, Mr. DeChristofaro warned the county employee upon whom he relied to send his campaign mailings to political supporters and precinct-committee persons to lie to investigators, according to that employee’s sworn testimony. In 2011, mere weeks after Chandra Law sent a taxpayer demand on Mr. Davilla’s behalf to the county prosecutor and then filed a taxpayer lawsuit, Mr. DeChristofaro resigned from office on the eve of trial. He also pleaded guilty to felony theft in office and misdemeanor conflict-of-interest violations.
- Stopping Cleveland’s City Council president Kevin J. Kelley from thwarting democracy. State ex rel. Langhenry v. Britt, 151 Ohio St.3d 227, 2017-Ohio-7172 arose from the Cleveland City Council Clerk failing to perform the duties of her office. On April 24, 2017, Cleveland City Council enacted Ordinance No. 305-17. The Council’s controversial ordinance committed $88 million of City tax revenues to performing discretionary renovations of Quicken Loans Arena. In response, a coalition of city taxpayers submitted a referendum petition to the Clerk of Cleveland City Council. The referendum, including 20,603 signatures of Cleveland residents, directed the Clerk to submit the ordinance to a city vote. Patricia Britt, the Council’s Clerk—really, the Council President Kevin J. Kelley, her boss who was pulling the strings, refused to do so. Chandra Law wrote a taxpayer-demand letter to the Cleveland law director. They demanded that the law director compel the City Council Clerk to accept their referendum petition. The law director filed a wishy-washy mandamus action, and the Supreme Court of Ohio permitted the taxpayers to intervene to ensure the integrity of the proceedings. The Ohio Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus, finding that the Clerk failed to perform a duty she owed to the public and compelling her to accept the taxpayer’s referendum petition. Council President Kevin J. Kelley’s efforts to thwart democracy were thwarted.
Contact The Chandra Law Firm LLC if you have concerns about city or county failures to comply with clear legal duties.
If a city or county public servant has violated the public’s trust or misused public funds, call us at 216-578-1700 or fill out our online contact form to learn how we may be able to help.
At Chandra Law, your case is our cause.®