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Date: 10-04-2019

Case Style:


Case Number: C-180484

Judge: Pierre Bergeron


Plaintiff's Attorney:

Defendant's Attorney:


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Plaintiff-appellant Phillip Schaefer and defendant-appellee Tatiana Mazii
have a complex, and well-traveled, history. Beginning in 2005, the couple lived together on
a Russian island located off the coast of Japan called Sakhalin. Some years later (after
having a child), in October 2014, the couple married in Kentucky. Unbeknownst to Ms.
Mazii, this was not Mr. Schaefer’s only current marriage. In fact, just a few months prior in
May 2014, Mr. Schaefer married another woman, Valentina Maluygina, in Nevada. And, to
add insult to injury, Mr. Schaefer left out yet another small detail—he never finalized the
divorce from his first marriage in May 1994 to Linda Schaefer. In other words, when he
married Ms. Mazii, he already had two wives.
{¶3} Ms. Mazii discovered her husband’s bigamous marriages just a few months
after their own, stumbling upon email communications between Mr. Schaefer and Ms.
Maluygina and learning that his first marriage never terminated. At this point, Ms. Mazii
and Mr. Schaefer lived in Hamilton County, but in the wake of this revelation, Ms. Mazii
decamped for Sakhalin to the same abode where the couple previously resided together.
Notably, Ms. Mazii did not embark on the transatlantic journey alone, but took their son
with her.


{¶4} This ultimately set off an international chess match of litigation, with
proceedings commenced in Bahrain, Russia, and here in Hamilton County. In Bahrain, Mr.
Schaefer had previously initiated an action to secure custody of their son, which the
Bahrainian court granted.
{¶5} With that order in hand, in July 2015, Mr. Schaefer filed for divorce in
Hamilton County, obtaining service upon Ms. Mazii by publication (even though she resided
in the same home they once lived in together, and he made no apparent effort to serve her
under the Hague Convention or other governing protocol, see Civ.R. 4.5). As part of the
divorce, Mr. Schaefer sought recognition from Hamilton County regarding the Bahrain
custody degree. The domestic relations court obliged, registering the Bahrain custody
degree, and thereby allowing the court to grant custody to Mr. Schaefer. Over a year later,
in December 2016, the court granted Mr. Schaefer’s motion for a default judgment for
divorce (Ms. Mazii never having appeared).
{¶6} As if the situation were not convoluted enough, during this same time Ms.
Mazii also gained her own custody order from yet another country, Russia, granting her
custody of their son. This created dueling inconsistent foreign judgments between Russia
and Bahrain. Ms. Mazii sent the Russian order to Mr. Schaefer, who responded to this
volley by forwarding the divorce decree from Hamilton County. Now alerted to the divorce
proceedings in Hamilton County, Ms. Mazii promptly filed a motion for relief from
judgment, asking the court set aside the divorce decree. In turn, when Mr. Schaefer learned
of the Russian custody order, he filed a petition in the Russian court, requesting that the
court recognize the Hamilton County divorce decree.
{¶7} Regarding the motion for relief from judgment, the Hamilton County
Domestic Relations Court heard from the parties’ attorneys (both parties living in foreign


countries at the time). After the hearing, the trial court concluded that, given the
extraordinary circumstances, Ms. Mazii deserved relief pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B)(5), thereby
granting her motion for relief from judgment.
{¶8} Mr. Schaefer now appeals the setting aside of the divorce decree, asserting in
his lone assignment of error that the trial court erred in granting Ms. Mazii’s motion for
relief from judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B)(5).
{¶9} We review a trial court’s decision to grant a motion for relief from judgment
for an abuse of discretion. Carnes v. Carnes, 2015-Ohio-2925, 38 N.E.3d 1214, ¶ 10 (1st
Dist.), citing Strack v. Pelton, 70 Ohio St.3d 172, 174, 637 N.E.2d 914 (1994). We begin with
Civ.R. 60(B), which provides that a court may relieve a party from a final judgment for: “(1)
mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence which
by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial * * *; (3)
fraud * * * misrepresentation or other misconduct of an adverse party; (4) the judgment has
been satisfied, released or discharged * * * or (5) any other reason justifying relief from the
judgment.” To prevail on such a motion, the movant must demonstrate that the party (1)
possesses a meritorious defense or claim if the court grants relief; (2) is entitled to relief
under one of the grounds stated in Civ.R. 60(B)(1) through (5); and (3) made the motion
within a reasonable time, and not more than one year after the judgment if based on the
grounds in Civ.R. 60(B)(1), (2), or (3). GTE Automatic Elec., Inc. v. ARC Industries, Inc., 47
Ohio St.2d 146, 150-151, 351 N.E.2d 113 (1976).
{¶10} Turning to the first prong, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in
finding that Ms. Mazii possesses a meritorious claim, in that she may seek a divorce or an


annulment based on Mr. Schaefer’s bigamy. We confronted this very issue in Carnes. In
Carnes, the wife initially sought a divorce on grounds of incompatibility, to which her
husband consented. Two months after the court granted the divorce, the wife discovered
her husband’s marriage to another living spouse during their marriage, rendering the
second marriage between the wife and husband void. Consequently, the wife sought to set
aside the divorce decree pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B).
{¶11} After reciting the effects of a bigamous marriage under Ohio law, we
determined that a bigamous marriage provides two alternatives for the party seeking the
termination of the marriage: (1) divorce on grounds that the spouse had a husband or wife
at the time of the marriage pursuant to R.C. 3105.01(A), or (2) an annulment on the same
grounds pursuant to R.C. 3105.31(B). Carnes at ¶ 16, citing Eggleston v. Eggleston, 156
Ohio St. 422, 427-428, 103 N.E.2d 395 (1952). Because the wife established that her
husband had a living spouse at the time of the marriage, we held that she had a meritorious
claim to present if relief was granted—to seek a divorce or an annulment—even though she
had already obtained a divorce. Id. at ¶ 17.
{¶12} Applying Carnes, Ms. Mazii certainly has a meritorious claim as well, since
Mr. Schaefer himself concedes he had not one, but two, living spouses during his marriage
to Ms. Mazii. Without any pathway around Carnes, Mr. Schaefer instead highlights Ms.
Mazii’s failure to declare that she will seek an annulment if relief is granted, positing that
she lacks a meritorious claim since the trial court already granted the only other alternative,
divorce. But this strikes us as an attempt to impose a rigidity on Carnes that we never
intended or suggested.
{¶13} Recall that Mr. Schaefer obtained a default judgment here—meaning that he
secured the judgment he sought since Ms. Mazii was not before the court. Suffice it to say,


the court probably would not have granted everything that Mr. Schaefer sought had the
adversary system worked and the court been apprised of his bigamy. This court in Carnes
did not require that the wife assert which option of relief, divorce or annulment, she desired,
but only that she demonstrate entitlement to either. Similarly, Ms. Mazii need not specify
the exact contours of the relief she desires given that she has established a meritorious
claim—that she is entitled to a divorce or an annulment on the grounds of bigamy.
Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Ms. Mazii possessed a
meritorious claim.
{¶14} As to the second prong, the trial court granted relief to Ms. Mazii under Civ.R.
60(B)(5), also known as the “catch-all” provision. See Melton v. Melton, 1st Dist. Hamilton
No. C-130123, 2013-Ohio-4790, ¶ 12, citing W2 Properties, L.L.C. v. Haboush, 196 Ohio
App.3d 194, 2011-Ohio-4231, 962 N.E.2d 858, ¶ 26 (1st Dist.). Notably, the purpose of
Civ.R. 60(B)(5) is to “relieve a person from the unjust operation of a judgment * * * [and] is
available only in ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ ” Melton at ¶ 12, quoting Hatfield v. Goebel,
1st Dist. Hamilton Nos. C-970819 and C-970940, 1998 WL 597647, *2 (Sept. 11, 1998).
While “extraordinary circumstances” may elude a precise definition, we have little
hesitation in finding that the trial court acted within its discretion in labeling this just such a
{¶15} Turning a blind eye to the realities of the matter at hand, Mr. Schaefer
maintains that no extraordinary facts exist here warranting relief under Civ.R. 60(B)(5).
But we beg to differ. As a starting point, we have serious questions regarding the efficacy of
service of process by publication in this case. Because Ms. Mazii returned to the same
residence in Sakhalin where she and Mr. Schaefer previously lived back in 2005, it appears


that he opted to serve her by publication as a means of avoiding actual service of process.
Civ.R. 4.4 carefully circumscribes the times when service by publication is appropriate, and
it requires an affidavit detailing “all of the efforts made on behalf of the party to ascertain
the residence of the party to be served[.]” Civ.R. 4.4(A)(1). The affidavit submitted here
only indicated that “reasonable diligence” uncovered no address for Ms. Mazii, but it is
devoid of any specifics as to what that diligence entailed, raising more questions than it
{¶16} As we delve into the merits of Ms. Mazii’s request, we agree that Mr.
Schaefer’s “[t]hree concurrent marriages entered across three jurisdictions suggest * * * a
pattern of deceit or, at least, * * * material omissions * * * cast[ing] doubt on whether assets,
liabilities, and property were properly divided when the Court granted his divorce from [Ms.
Mazii].” While it is unclear whether the trial court believed Mr. Schaefer deceived the court
itself or Ms. Mazii regarding the bigamous marriage, Ohio courts do recognize fraud against
the court as grounds for relief under Civ.R. 60(B)(5). See Coulson v. Coulson, 5 Ohio St.3d
12, 448 N.E.2d 809 (1983), paragraph one of the syllabus (“Pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B)(5), a
court in appropriate circumstances may vacate a judgment vitiated by a fraud upon the
court.”); Roubanes Luke v. Roubanes, 2018-Ohio-1065, 109 N.E.3d 671, ¶ 23 (10th Dist.)
(“Courts carefully distinguish between fraud upon the court, which is a basis for relief from
judgment under Civ.R. 60(B)(5), and fraud upon a party, which is a basis for relief from
judgment under Civ.R. 60(B)(3).”). While not wholly similar, in In re Marriage of Watson,
13 Ohio App.3d 344, 345-347, 469 N.E.2d 876 (9th Dist.1983), the Ninth District held that
the wife’s concealment of pregnancy during dissolution proceedings constituted a
substantial ground to justify relief from the judgment under Civ.R. 60(B)(5).


{¶17} Although courts should “narrowly construe fraud upon the court in order to
prevent it from overwhelming Civ.R. 60(B)(3) and rendering Civ.R. 60(B)(3)’s one-year
time limitation meaningless,” Roubanes at ¶ 23, the court here acted within the bounds of
its discretion in granting relief given Mr. Schaefer’s conduct and the totality of the record
before it.
{¶18} Moreover, at the time of the motion for relief hearing, the issue of child
custody remained an unresolved and complicated problem. A trio of courts from three
different countries had all chimed in on who should have custody: the Bahrain court
awarding custody to Mr. Schaefer, the Hamilton County court registering the Bahrain
custody decree, and the Russian court granting custody to Ms. Mazii with visitation to Mr.
Schaefer. Even presently, we understand Mr. Schaefer’s appeal as to the Russian custody
order remains pending before that court. (To that point, the parties debated the effect of
any ruling that we might issue on those foreign proceedings—but that is beyond our control
and something that has no bearing on the procedural question before us.). Given the
significance of this issue, we believe the trial court should have an opportunity to decide this
question on the merits, with the benefit of a complete record.
{¶19} Further, extraordinary or unusual circumstances creating a pattern of
inequities may, taken together, justify relief under Civ.R. 60(B)(5). For instance, in Sell v.
Brockway, 7th Dist. Columbiana No. 11 CO 30, 2012-Ohio-4552, after settlement, the
defendant-appellant paid the agreed-upon damages and believed the clean-up of the job site
occurred, as required by the terms of the settlement. However, the plaintiffs moved to
enforce the settlement, claiming the clean-up never occurred, and thus seeking additional
damages. After a parade of continuances, the court held a hearing without the defendant,
requiring him to pay $13,000 in damages. Six months later, defendant learned of the


judgment entered against him, and he sought relief from the judgment under Civ.R. 60(B)
because the defendant’s attorney never received notice of the hearing and the attorney, at
the time of the hearing, had a suspended license. The Seventh District found that, while
defendant’s attorney’s suspended law license was not enough for excusable negligent under
Civ.R. 60(B)(1), the “failure of counsel to receive notice of the hearing taken in conjunction
with his suspension creates a somewhat extraordinary or unusual situation,” justifying relief
under Civ.R. 60(B)(5). Id. at ¶ 27. So too here we have a lack of actual notice and a record
chalked full of deception. For these reasons, we cannot say the trial court abused its
discretion in granting Ms. Mazii’s motion for relief from judgment under Civ.R. 60(B)(5).
{¶20} Concerning the timeliness of Ms. Mazii’s motion for relief, Civ.R. 60(B) does
not specify what a “reasonable time” is for seeking relief under Civ.R. 60(B)(5). Zwahlen v.
Brown, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-070263, 2008-Ohio-151, ¶ 12 (“A ‘reasonable time’ for
mistake, newly discovered evidence, and fraud is not more than one year, but the rule does
not specify what constitutes a ‘reasonable time’ for seeking relief under Civ.R. 60(B)(5).”).
Here, Ms. Mazii filed her motion for relief from the judgment on December 4, 2017, a little
less than a year after the court entered the default judgment for divorce on December 30,
2016. Considering that Ms. Mazii first learned of the divorce proceeding in July 2017, we
agree with the trial court that she filed her motion within a reasonable time, and Mr.
Schaefer does not seriously contend otherwise.

Outcome: While Civ.R. 60(B)(5) calls for relief only under extraordinary circumstances,
we find this particular state of affairs satisfies that threshold. Accordingly, we overrule Mr. Schaefer’s sole assignment of error and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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