What Happened on Remand: Vacha v. North Ridgeville. Case Settled.

Case Background

In 2004, Charles Ralston was hired as a helper at a wastewater treatment plant owned and operated by the city of North Ridgeville. Though Ralston had a criminal record, at his interview and on his employment application, he was asked only if he had any prior felony convictions. Unbeknownst to the city, Ralston had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, assault, and disorderly conduct.

In 2006, Ralston raped Lisa Vacha, a co-worker, while both were working at the wastewater treatment plant. Ralston was convicted of rape and sentenced to prison. Vacha brought a civil action against the City.

Vacha sued the City on four grounds: negligent hiring and supervision of Ralston, reckless hiring and supervision of Ralston, vicarious liability, and an employer intentional tort alleging that the city acted intentionally and with willful and wanton disregard for Vacha’s safety in hiring and supervising Ralston.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the City on the vicarious liability claims, but denied the City’s motion on the other three claims. The City appealed on the remaining claims.  The Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed on the negligent and reckless hiring and supervision claims, finding them barred by workers’ compensation, but affirmed the denial of summary judgment on the employer intentional tort claim. The City appealed, and the Supreme Court of Ohio accepted jurisdiction.

Pertinent Precedent

R.C. Chapter 2744.

Generally provides immunity to political subdivisions from liability for damages in tort claims.  Subsection (B) is an exception to this immunity.

R.C. 2744.09(B)

Political Subdivisions are not entitled to tort immunity in employee claims relative to any matter that arises out of the employment relationship between the employee and the political subdivision.

R.C. 2745.01

Establishes the criteria for an employer intentional tort claim. An employer cannot be held liable for an intentional tort unless the employer committed the act with intent to injure or with the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur.

Sampson v. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, 2012-Ohio-570.

An employee’s action against a political-subdivision employer arises out of the employment relationship between the employee and the political subdivision within the meaning of R.C. 2744.09(B) if there is a causal connection or a causal relationship between the claims raised by the employee and the employment relationship.

Merit Decision

In Vacha v. N. Ridgeville,  2013-Ohio-3020, a 5-2 decision written by Justice French, the court held that R.C. 2744.09 (B) does apply here, and summary judgment for the City was improper because political-subdivision immunity on Vacha’s employer intentional tort claim did not apply here as a matter of law. The court issued several disclaimers making it clear that a political subdivision may prove its entitlement to immunity by establishing there is no causal relationship between the employee’s claims and the employment relationship.

The case was sent back to the trial court. In order to defeat political subdivision immunity, Vacha was required to prove factually that a causal connection exists between her claims and the employment relationship.

Read a complete analysis of the merit decision here.

What Happened on Remand

On remand, the parties first attempted private mediation on December 19, 2013. When that failed, the parties proceeded to pretrial. After pretrial, the City once again moved for summary judgment on the remaining employer intentional tort claim. In its brief supporting this second motion, filed on June 30, 2014, the City argued that it was entitled to summary judgment for three reasons:

First, the undisputed facts fail to establish that the City knew with substantial certainty that a co-worker would rape Vacha. The City argues Vacha also failed to prove the City had the requisite deliberate intent to injure pursuant to rule R.C. 2745.01(A).

Second, the City noted that there is no causal connection between the subject matter of the employer intentional tort claim and Vacha’s employment with the city, entitling the City to political subdivision immunity under R.C. 2744.

Third, the unforeseeable intervening acts of Charles Ralston and Vacha sever any connection between the employer intentional tort claim and Vacha’s employment with the city. Specifically, both Ralston and Vacha violated several plant policies, including bringing alcohol onto the premises, bringing animals into the treatment plant, and deviating from job responsibilities. These activities represent unforeseeable intervening conduct and, according to the City, sever any causal link between the plaintiff’s claim and her employment.

On September 2, 2014, Vacha argued in reply that the City’s summary judgment arguments presented no new facts and were the same as those in the 2009 motion addressed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Vacha also argued that reliance on R.C. 2745.01 was untimely, that the R.C. 2744.02(B)(2) exception to immunity applies here, and that R.C. 2744 is an unconstitutional infringement on her right to a remedy and to trial by jury.

Finally, Vacha argued that the City was aware of Ralston’s propensity for violence and that a jury could reasonably conclude that the City’s misconduct in hiring Ralston and placing him in an unsupervised work environment was casually related and connected to her employment at the plant.

The City filed a reply. A jury trial was set for December 15, 2014.

Before Common Pleas Court Judge Raymond Ewers ever ruled on the City’s summary judgment motion, on November 17, 2014 the parties advised the court they had settled the case, and had agreed to a non-disclosure of the terms. The pending summary judgment motion was dismissed by the court as moot.

Student Contributor: Michael Elliott

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