|Case Date:||June 15, 2012|
Ohio Attorney General Opinions 2012. AGO 2012-20. June 15, 2012The Honorable Ryan Styer Tuscarawas County Prosecuting Attorney 125 East High Avenue New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663 SYLLABUS: 2012-020 Judgments for unpaid court costs owed to the clerk of court for the court of common pleas are judgments in favor of the state for the purpose of determining dormancy under R.C. 2329.07. June 15, 2012OPINION NO. 2012-020The Honorable Ryan Styer Tuscarawas County Prosecuting Attorney 125 East High Avenue New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663Dear Prosecutor Styer: You have requested an opinion regarding when a judgment for unpaid court costs becomes dormant or ceases to be a lien against a judgment debtor's property. A member of your staff has clarified that you would like us to address judgments for unpaid court costs in criminal and civil matters owed to the clerk of court for the court of common pleas. This opinion, therefore, addresses judgments for unpaid court costs owed to the clerk of the court of common pleas. To answer your question we must determine whether a judgment for court costs in favor of a clerk of court is a judgment in favor of the state. If a judgment for court costs is a judgment in favor of the state, then the judgment will continue to be a lien if execution is issued or a certificate of judgment is issued within ten years after the filing date of the judgment or within fifteen years after the date of the last execution on the judgment or the last issuance of a certificate of judgment, whichever is later. For the following reasons, we conclude judgments for unpaid court costs owed to the clerk of court for the court of common pleas are judgments in favor of the state for the purpose of determining dormancy under R.C. 2329.07. Definition of Court Costs and the Parties' Obligation to Pay Costs In addressing your question it will help to have an understanding of the term "court costs" and the rationale behind taxing costs to litigants in court cases.(fn1) The Ohio Supreme Court has defined "costs" as "'the statutory fees to which officers, witnesses, jurors and others are entitled for their services in an action ... and which the statutes authorize to be taxed and included in the judgment.'" Centennial Ins. Co. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 69 Ohio St. 2d 50, 50-51, 430 N.E.2d 925 (1982) (quoting State ex rel. Comm'rs of Franklin Cty. v. Guilbert, 77 Ohio St. 333, 338-39, 83 N.E. 80 (1907)); see also Christe v. GMS Mgmt. Co., Inc., 88 Ohio St. 3d 376, 378, 2000-Ohio-351, 726 N.E.2d 497; Miller v. Gustus, 90 Ohio App. 3d 622, 626, 630 N.E.2d 68 (Franklin County 1993); 2007 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 2007-030, at 2-312 to 2-313; 1996 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 96-058, at 2-222. Courts are directed by statute to tax various fees and costs in civil cases and criminal cases. See, e.g., R.C. 2746.01 (fees for court-appointed appraisers, commissioners, arbitrators, auctioneers, interpreters, publication costs, sheriff services, and witness fees); R.C. 2746.02 (fees for financial sanctions in felony cases, cost of prosecution in criminal cases, cost of confinement for misdemeanor cases, cost of supervised community service, cost of medical treatment or testing for certain offenders, cost of presentence investigation psychological reports, cost of electronic monitoring in certain cases, cost of a transcript in a post-conviction relief proceeding, and the fee for sealing a record of conviction); R.C. 2746.04 (fees required to be charged by a court of common pleas including fees for computerized research, various filing fees for different types of cases, fees for interpreters, fees for jurors in civil cases, fees for shorthand reporters, the expenses of taking a deposition of an incarcerated or detained person in a civil case, fees related to a judgment debtor examination, transcription expense for an appeal from an agency's order, expense of providing supervised visitation in cases with a domestic violence protection order, the cost of appointed counsel in a proceeding to have someone involuntarily institutionalized); R.C. 2746.05 (fees required in juvenile court cases); R.C. 2746.06 (fees required in probate court cases); R.C 2746.09 (cost and expenses of a court-appointed receiver in tax collection actions, cost of a court-appointed referee, receiver, or master in a case brought by the Attorney General for violation of the Business Opportunity Plans Act, the Consumer Sales Practices Act, or the Condominium Act, and other fees allowed by a court rule for a receiver); R.C. 2303.20 (various filing fees to be charged by the clerk of the court of common pleas).(fn2) "The costs of the parties in all actions, motions, and proceedings, in any of the courts of this state, shall be taxed and entered of record separately." R.C. 2335.18. The Ohio Supreme Court has recognized that "'[t]he duty to pay court costs is a civil obligation arising from an implied contract.'" State v. Joseph, 125 Ohio St. 3d 76, 2010-Ohio-954, 926 N.E.2d 278, at ¶20 (quoting Strattman v. Studt, 20 Ohio St. 2d 95, 253 N.E.2d 749 (1969) (syllabus, paragraph 6)). Whether in a civil or criminal case, a litigant's involvement in court proceedings renders him liable, by implied contract, for the payment of court costs. State v. Joseph at ¶20 (quoting Strattman v. Studt, 20 Ohio St. 2d at syllabus, paragraph 6). "'[C]osts are taxed against certain litigants for the purpose of lightening the burden on taxpayers financing the court system.'" State v. Threatt, 108 Ohio St. 3d 277, 2006-Ohio-905, 843 N.E.2d 164, at ¶15 (quoting Strattman v. Studt, 20 Ohio St. 2d at 102); 1989 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 89-106, at 2-518 ("[t]he fixing of the amount of costs represents the decision of the legislature as to what part of the expense of maintaining the state judicial system should be borne by individual litigants and what part should be provided from public funds").(fn3) A distinction exists between the taxing of costs by the clerk of court pursuant to R.C. 2335.18-.33 and a court's awarding of costs to a prevailing party in a final judgment pursuant to Ohio R. Civ. P. 54(D). White v. White, 50 Ohio App. 2d 263, 270 n.1, 362 N.E.2d 1013 (Cuyahoga County 1977); 1983 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 83-075, at 2-310. Ohio R. Civ. P. 54(D) addresses the court's authority to award costs to a prevailing party at the conclusion of the case in order to make the prevailing party whole; R.C. 2335.18, in contrast, addresses the responsibility of each party to pay costs incurred by the party during the course of the litigation. White v. White, 50 Ohio App. 2d at 270 n.1; Castle v. Roach, 11 Ohio Dec. 358, 359 (C. P. Franklin County 1900) ("the parties to a suit pay their own costs as they are incurred during the progress of a case, and judgment for costs is rendered in favor of the prevailing party, upon the theory that he has paid, or is liable for, the costs incurred by him, and to reimburse him therefor"). R.C. 2335.18 requires the separate taxing of the costs of the parties in all actions in any court in Ohio, and so the primary responsibility for the payment of costs rests with the party that incurs the costs. White v. White, 50 Ohio App. 2d at 270 n.1. If the costs are not paid...
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