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11th District Court of Appeals: Car honking lawsuit was frivolous

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 18, 2019

A Hubbard woman who sued nearly 40 people for causing them emotional distress over honking car horns and other alleged annoyances must pay $8,250 attorney fees for frivolous conduct.

That’s according to the 11th District Court of Appeals, which upheld a Trumbull County trial court’s judgment adopting a magistrate’s decision against Lucinda Krlich.

The case began in November 2014 when Krlich and her husband, Garrick, filed suit against Matthew Shelton and 37 other defendants. According to the complaint, the defendants deliberately harassed and menaced them, trespassed, blatantly violated the sanctity of their home and “at all hours sounded automobile horns/sirens outside their residence and made harassing phone calls.”

The lawsuit also alleged the defendants drove over their side yard lawn, paint-balled the side of their home, strew trash over their front lawn, made physical threats through electronic messaging, made lewd gestures and defamed their reputations by making slanderous and libelous comments through electronic messages.

The Krliches’ alleged damages included loss of value of their real estate, extreme sleep deprivation, anxiety, debilitating emotional distress, loss of income and medical expenses.

The appellees all offered to provide affidavits indicating they had not engaged in the alleged conduct and requested the case be dismissed. In addition, the appellees filed a counterclaim against the Krliches and their counsel for alleged violations of Civ.R. 11 and R.C. 2323.51, which serves to deter abuse of the judicial process by penalizing sanctionable conduct that occurs during litigation.

In their brief of opposition, the couple attached photographs of vehicles taken from a video system they installed outside their home, and copies of vehicle registrations relating to each defendant. In their affidavits, the Krliches claimed they had witnessed and visually recorded vehicles registered to each appellee repeatedly driving past their home and sounding an automobile horn.

In its ruling granting the appellees’ motion for summary judgment, the trial court determined the Krliches had not presented any evidence of defamation, trespass or nuisance.

The trial court found honking a horn did not constitute extreme and outrageous conduct that went beyond all possible bounds of decency. The trial court also determined the Krliches’ affidavits only established a horn was blown from the appellees’ cars, not that the appellees blew the horn.

At the time of the appeal, the trial court had not entered judgment on the appellees’ counterclaim.

After the appellate court dismissed the appeal, the magistrate held a hearing on the appellees’ counterclaim. The magistrate found the lawsuit was filed “merely to harass, annoy and maliciously injure” the appellees and awarded attorney fees against the Krliches for frivolous conduct.

Lucinda Krlich appealed the decision on the appellees’ counterclaim, arguing there were good grounds to file the complaint. The trial court adopted the magistrate’s decision in its entirety after Lucinda Krlich did not file a transcript of the magistrate’s proceedings or an affidavit within 30 days of filing the objections.

In her majority opinion, 11th District Judge Mary Jane Trapp noted that R.C. 2323.51(A)(2)(a)(iii) defines “frivolous conduct” as “conduct that consists of allegations or other factual contentions that have no evidentiary support or … are not likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery.”

The Krliches presented evidence in the form of a flash drive, a retired FBI agent who ran the license plates of the honking cars to determine ownership and Garrick Krlich’s testimony.

The magistrate found the following: 1. Honking a horn on an unspecified number of occasions does not constitute extreme and outrageous conduct that goes beyond all bounds of decency; 2. the Krliches’ evidence does not show the appellees themselves blew the horn; 3. the appellees filed affidavits denying they honked their horns specifically to disturb the Krliches and 4. there was no way to determine the circumstances on the road at the time of the honking.

The appellate court disagreed with Lucinda Krliches’ argument that the audio/video evidence, in addition to Bureau of Motor Vehicle records, constituted evidentiary support.

“For instance, the materials do not support allegations that the appellees themselves actually drove the offending vehicles,” Trapp said in in her majority opinion. “In fact, the complaint indicates that one of the appellees resided in Gates Mills in Cuyahoga County, which is over 60 miles away from Mrs. Krlich’s residence in Hubbard.”

In addition, even if the appellees did drive the offending vehicles, the evidence does not prove they acted intentionally to harass or annoy her rather than respond to various road conditions, Trapp added.

The magistrate found the evidence showed horn-honking “on an unspecified number of occasions,” but nothing to support the other allegations.

“Mrs. Krlich turned a blind eye to evidence that unequivocally refuted her allegations,” Trapp stated. “Her persistence amounts to frivolous conduct.”

Appellate Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice concurred with the decision to affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Eleventh District Judge Timothy P. Cannon dissented, writing that he believes the trial court abused its discretion by ordering her to pay attorney fees.

“There does not appear to be any dispute that people were driving by appellant’s house at all hours, in vehicles owned by the defendants, repeatedly honking their horns,” Cannon said in his dissenting opinion.

The case is cited Krlich v. Shelton, 2019-Ohio-3441.