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Jackson v. City of Columbus

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

September 29, 2006

James G. Jackson, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Columbus et al., Defendants-Appellees.

APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas J.C.P.C. No. 01CVC-07-6875.

Stein, Chapin & Associates, LLC, and Eva C. Gildee; Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, LLP, and Charles E. Ticknor, III, for appellant.

Richard C. Pfeiffer, Jr., City Attorney, and Glenn B. Redick, for appellee City of Columbus.

Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur, LLP, and Kathleen M. Trafford, for appellee Thomas W. Rice, Sr.

DECISION

Deshler, J.

{¶1} Plaintiff-appellant, James G. Jackson, appeals from a judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas granting summary judgment for defendants-appellees, the City of Columbus and Thomas W. Rice, Sr.

{¶2} Appellant is the Chief of the Columbus Division of Police. Appellee, Thomas W. Rice, Sr, is the former Safety Director for the city and in that capacity was appellant's direct supervisor. This case arises out of an investigation conducted at the express direction of the Mayor of Columbus into allegations of misconduct and mismanagement in the division of police. This investigation concluded with presentation of a "Mayoral Investigative Report" (the "mayoral report"), presenting the findings of the investigation addressing the underlying allegations and making recommendations for reforms or improvements in the management of the Columbus Division of Police.

{¶3} After the mayoral report was presented in 1997, appellant began legal action claiming that he was defamed by numerous statements contained therein. Although appellant has, in this and companion cases, asserted that many aspects of the mayoral report contain defamatory statements published with actual malice by appellees in furtherance of a bitter personal and political feud between appellee Rice and appellant over control of the Columbus Division of Police, the only statements that remain directly pertinent to this appeal are the republished allegations of one Keith Lamar Jones who, at the time of the investigation, was an inmate at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. In the course of interviews with the investigators developing the mayoral report, Jones alleged, inter alia, that appellant had fathered an illegitimate child by a minor prostitute, and this allegation is reported, with extensively expressed reservations as to its reliability, in the final draft of the mayoral report. Certain comparable statements by two unnamed Columbus-area prostitutes were also included in the report, and although appellant's claims regarding these have been dismissed prior to this appeal, they are frequently referenced in connection with Jones' statement and thus mentioned here only to develop the procedural sequence of the rulings rendered by the trial court.

{¶4} The present case began with a re-filed complaint on July 17, 2001. On June 6, 2003, the trial court entered partial summary judgment in favor of the city, finding that the city would be immune from liability if the evidence established that the alleged defamation was intentional. The trial court denied, however, the city's motion for summary judgment to the extent that it found the city would not be immune if the alleged defamatory statements were made with reckless disregard for their falsity. The court noted that, if appellee Rice were to succeed in demonstrating that he had personally acted without such reckless disregard, the city would prevail on this issue as well.

{¶5} On November 5, 2004, the trial court entered a further summary judgment in favor of Rice on all claims in the complaint with the following two exceptions: the trial court found that summary judgment would be denied "with regard to Chief Jackson's claims that he was defamed by the republication of the statements of Mr. Keith Jones and the statements of two prostitutes." (November 5, 2004 trial court decision, at 1.) On May 19, 2005, the trial court granted a renewed motion for summary judgment by Rice on the republished allegations of Keith Lamar Jones, finding that there remained no genuine issue of material fact and that reasonable minds could not conclude that Rice had acted with actual malice when republishing Jones' allegations concerning Chief Jackson. On August 29, 2005, appellant amended his complaint to delete all claims related to alleged defamation arising from republication of the statements made by the two prostitutes, thus leaving no claims from the complaint that had not been addressed by the trial court. In the interim, however, appellant had filed on June 7, 2005, a motion for reconsideration asking the trial court to revisit its grant of summary judgment in favor of Rice concerning republication of the defamatory statements by Jones. The trial court initially agreed to permit further briefing on one issue related to the motion for reconsideration, but ultimately entered final judgment for both the city and Rice without explicitly addressing the pending motion for reconsideration.

{¶6} Appellant has timely appealed and brings the following three assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred in its May 19, 2005 Decision and Entry by granting Rice's January 24, 2005 supplemental motion for summary judgment.
2. The trial court erred in its June 16, 2005 Decision and Entry by partially denying Chief Jackson's June 7, 2005 motion for reconsideration.
3. The trial court erred in its August 29, 2005 Judgment Entry by failing to rule on the "one remaining issue" it agreed to reconsider in its June ...

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