Stella Case No. 097, Originally Published: 16 November 2005
James and Linda Huegel built a new house in 1993. The house sat directly on top of the border between Clermont County and Hamilton County, Ohio. They weren’t sure which county their children should go to school in, so they asked the Ohio Department of Education which one they should go to. It wasn’t an obvious question: because their house straddled the county line, they got two property tax bills, and both included school taxes.
“The Ohio Department of Education told us we could attend either school district, because we were paying taxes in both,” James Huegel said. The Huegels chose the Forest Hills School District, and their two children attended schools in the district from 1993 to 1999.
But in 2000, the school district sued the Huegels: the district alleged that they did not actually live within the school district boundary, and were thus required to pay out-of-district tuition. The total: $35,485.
Good news quickly followed: the Clermont County Common Pleas Court said the school district could not sue until the Ohio Department of Education ruled on the case. But that’s fine, right? They had already told the Huegels they could attend school in either district! But no, they had to wait for a formal ruling. The school district didn’t want to wait: they appealed the decision to the Ohio Court of Appeals; that court upheld the trial court’s decision: they had to wait. They appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court; it refused to hear the case.
Everything looked good for the Huegels. At least, until the state Department of Education finally got around to making their ruling: it found that the Hugels’ house was not in the Forest Hills district boundary, even though every other house on their street was. The school reinstated their lawsuit.
The Huegels did everything right: they asked the state to rule on exactly which school their kids could go to; they paid taxes to two different school districts. They relied on the state to tell them what to do, and now they are being asked to pay for the “free” education their children were entitled to, what their taxes already helped pay for.
James Huegel says the school district should take more responsibility. “They have some responsibility in this also to know what property is in their district or what property they believe is in their district,” he said. “It’s not like we gave them a phony address.”
The Huegels relied on the Department of Education, which simply changed its mind after the fact, leaving the family on the hook for a huge bill that they have already paid through their taxes. That’s not the sort of education any of us should have to expect.
- “Forest Hills Pursues Family Whose House Was on Border”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 14 October 2005.
Dismissed …I think. See next section.
My 2022 Thoughts on the Case
While I couldn’t find definitive information on what happened in the end, the 2019 Ohio Family Law Handbook (according to Google Books) had this entry: “Dismissal of board of education’s claim against property owners in a residence dispute properly was dismissed … because the authority to resolve the dispute was in the state superintendent of public instruction.” So I think the case was ultimately dismissed, but not without years of nightmare for the Huegels in the meantime.
After the apparent dismissal, the school board continued their fight …for interest on what they claimed the Huegels owed. That case went on to at least 2008. What a massive F.U. to a family the district is there to serve.
But even then, if I can find the final outcome and the reasoning, I would be happy to revisit my opinion.
- “Opinion”, Forest Hills Local School District Board of Education v James Huegel, et al., Court of Appeals for the 12th District of Ohio, 30 June 2003.
- “Opinion”, Forest Hills Local School District Board of Education v James Huegel, et al., Court of Appeals for the 12th District of Ohio, 19 May 2008.
Regarding the Case 96, about the self-proclaimed “god” demanding a court order professional magicians to reveal their techniques to him (which he wouldn’t need if he were god, eh?), in 2005 a few magician newsletters and magazines requested reprint permission to run the story; it was granted in every case, and I really appreciate them asking first. I give away a lot for free; I would really appreciate your not taking more than I offer, which is called “stealing.” (Thanks!)
So on to the letters from 2005:
Magician James “The Amazing” Randi: “Please ask Mr. Roller to sue me, too! I can’t wait!”
Gee, Randi: I’m not sure anyone has ever accused you of being “Godly”! 🙂 But there you go: I’ve passed your request on.
[2021 note: as noted in the case status, Roller did sue Randi. Alas, Randi didn’t write to me with details before he died …in 2020.]
Jim, an attorney in Alabama: “I realize that though no lawyer was involved in FILING such a ridulous [sic] suit, you still take issue with the fact that lawyers were used to defend the suit. In an attempt to justify your anti-lawyer stance, you proffer the ‘what ifs’ of the ‘common man’ being sued. Mr. Joe Six Pack doesn’t have silly law suits like this brought against him. In fact, Joe Six Pack, who has little or nothing in the way of worldly goods, including insurance, can basically neglegently [sic] or recklessly harm anyone and not fear a suit at all. [In the magician case,] the lawyers for the ‘reasonably rich men’ didn’t daudle [sic] needlessly in court with frivilous [sic] motion practice and responses, and demand money back under Rule 11 just for the sake of running up the hours and thus the bill on their clients who are obviously able to pay. Bottom line: Please stop blaming lawyers for all the ills of the world. When a case is tried…BOTH sides tell their story TO A JURY OF MEN AND WOMEN THAT HATE LAWYERS AS MUCH AS THE NEXT GUY, AND WHO HATE FRIVILOUS [sic] LAW SUITS. Now, if you want to pick on lawyers…lets [sic] start with the bad ones…DIVORCE LAWYERS!”
Now, I don’t normally “sic” reader letters, but it gives you a better flavor of the thinking here. Sure, everyone makes mistakes and typos now and then, but here we have a lawyer — a man with a doctorate in law — who can’t spell “frivolous” (or “negligent” or “dawdle” or “ridiculous”), but wants to expound on what is or isn’t frivolous.
Fine; I don’t think there’s any need to state my side of that again. But I will respond to two things: 1) TSA is obviously not “anti-lawyer” (as recently noted!), even though he concludes that he is!
I’ve often said (here, and in my book) that most lawyers are honorable people and are working hard toward the pursuit of justice for their clients. And indeed, many are absolutely ashamed of the dishonor a small number of their peers have brought to their profession, and they are well represented in my readership.
I have little doubt where the majority would place Jim from Alabama in that “shame” continuum. I took no “issue” with using attorneys to defend the magicians; rather, I made it clear that it was ridiculous that they had to go to the expense of hiring them for such outrageous suits, which says nothing about the defending attorneys themselves. And 2) Indeed, the “common man” does get sued, as the case above shows, as well as many that have come before.
Working people with kids in public school; that’s pretty ordinary, isn’t it? I find it unlikely that the family has $35K sitting in their vacation fund to fork over to a greedy school district that has already collected its tax money.
Mike, a personal injury attorney in Maryland: “Of course, as you recognized, such a frivolous suit is likely to be thrown out by the judge at an early stage, as soon as the opposing party brings its frivolous nature to the judge’s attention. But then you said, why should such a Rule 11 motion even be necessary? Why can’t the court just read the complaint and throw it out at the beginning? The reason is one of the things that makes our court system great and highly admired throughout the world: the ‘open door’ policy for initial case filings. There is no ‘threshold’ requirement that anybody has to meet before walking into the courthouse, paying the required filing fee, and filing their complaint. Even in cases where a statute requires some steps to be taken before suit is filed in order to have a valid claim (e.g. Federal equal opportunity claims, which have to be taken before the EEOC before filing suit), these prerequisites do not actually present the suit from being filed.”
Mike brings up good points which help to answer a question several letter writers asked (“Why doesn’t the judge just toss it out immediately without waiting to hear from the defendant when the case is so obviously loony?”) — but he’s defending a charge I didn’t make. I didn’t suggest that the judge throw the case out before the defendants responded and made such a motion, I suggested that the judge should order sanctions even if they are not requested by the defendants when it becomes obvious that the case is entirely frivolous. That’s a big, big difference!
Dori, who didn’t say where she is: “My reaction to the story of Christopher Roller was extreme sadness. I did indeed look at his website but just didn’t have the stomach to read all the way through it; this man is simply far too ill. I have to commend Mr. Copperfield and his lawyers for having the mercy to refrain from filing a Rule 11 motion for now. I don’t really see this as being a ‘frivolous’ lawsuit in the same sense that many of the other Stella cases you report are, Randy; rather, it’s a case of a very sick man who doesn’t understand reality.”
I’m not interested in running cases that all have the same “sense” of frivolity; the entire point is to look at the problem from a wide variety of angles. That includes cases filed by the insane, which may or may not include Mr. Roller; they are, and he is, part of the problem I’m trying to illustrate from various points of view in my attempt to paint a very big picture.
Also in the last issue, I ran a letter from an attorney who defended Case #95 of the woman who sued her rescuers. Attorney Allan in Michigan argued that “it is not absurd to hold the rescuers liable” since they “wasted time” by putting on their gear after they got there when they could have put it on enroute.
That didn’t sit well with readers. Plenty of scuba divers wrote to say it would be impossible to correctly don a wetsuit in a moving car, and nearly impossible even if they had a lot of room, such as in the back of an ambulance. Others point to legality.
Scott in Texas: “Many places have seat belt laws; I must admit to wondering how one puts on a wetsuit while buckled in. Some or many rescuers would ignore such and suit up anyway, [but] it would be improper for someone to suggest that rescuers NOT take reasonable and legal steps to ensure their own safety, even if the law specifically provides an exception.”
Courtney in Massachusetts: “I myself am a volunteer firefighter/rescue tech. Sadly, too many good people are hurt by not wearing seatbelts. My fire department will suspend anyone caught not wearing one while riding. Many people complain that fire trucks and ambulances drive too fast or won’t move out of the way for them — yet they are the first to complain when it takes too long for us to arrive at THEIR emergency.”
Several readers sent a suggestion similar to this:
Roberto, a doctor in Mexico: “I would recommend the honorable judge to grant her full compensation: those mean, good-for-nothing bums who took her out of the car should put the plaintiff back precisely where they found her, in the exact same physical circumstance in which she was found.”
On many, even most, emergency calls, what the dispatcher tells rescue squads and what they face when they get there are often two different things, and they need to get there to determine how to proceed.
Charles in Texas: “Allan, maybe you should follow the rescue squad for at least a week and see what these guys really face on an case by case basis. Do you truly believe all of your cases can be solved in advance without a consultation? Does a woman that calls in advance to make an appointment for your services, saying she wants a divorce due to irreconcilable differences, always come in looking pristine with no bruises, cuts or broken bones due to an abusive husband? I believe there are innumerable cases and rulings based on individual (and many unique) cases that don’t fit a ‘mold’. Can you really properly assess, just by a telephone call and know without a doubt, that you have all the facts necessary to go to court the second someone arrives in your office? Do you really grab a briefcase full of papers and books and sprint to the courtroom without first analyzing their individual situation?”
Bill in Pennsylvania: “It’s thinking like Allan’s that is destroying the trust a society like our needs to have to exist. Our citizenry enjoys an amazing lifestyle, and yet our legal profession insists that everyone be perfect. These first responders SAVED THIS WOMAN’S LIFE!!! How dare she then try to destroy them? This country desperately needs changes in tort law right now. Fines and expenses should be levied on anyone that brings suit and loses. The defendant should be paid FIRST before the plaintiff’s lawyer gets a penny if the plaintiff loses. Eliminate contingency fees. Force the attorneys to charge their clients whatever the result or do the work pro bono. The lawyers will howl, and maybe, if we’re lucky, they will quit the profession and find some honorable employment — like being a first responder.”
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