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Boling v. Department of Rehabilitation & Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

March 5, 2007


S.C. reporter April 19, 2007

Velda K. Hofacker Carr Assistant Attorney General

Craig Wright, Judge J.



{¶1} Plaintiff brought this action alleging numerous claims for relief. The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated and the case proceeded to trial on the issues of liability and civil immunity.[1]

{¶2} At all times relevant to this action plaintiff was an inmate in the custody and control of defendant pursuant to R.C. 5120.16. In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that while he was housed at Orient Correctional Institution, defendant's mental health professionals, Jean Wardell and James DeFeo, encouraged plaintiff to continue a sexual relationship with inmate William Weatherspoon and then to report all sexual activity to them as part of a research project that Wardell was conducting for use in a book that she was authoring about homosexual behavior. According to the complaint, Wardell and DeFeo continued to encourage the relationship even after learning that Weatherspoon had contracted HIV and that he had infected plaintiff with the virus. Plaintiff alleges that in return for his promise to provide intimate details about his relationship with Weatherspoon, Wardell and DeFeo agreed to keep the relationship confidential and not report plaintiffs conduct to other staff.

{¶3} Plaintiff further alleges that when he and Weatherspoon were transferred to Madison Correctional Institution (MaCI), they enrolled in a sexual offender treatment program known as the Monticello program. Plaintiff claims that while attending this program he was sexually assaulted by inmate John White. Plaintiff further alleges that when he reported the assault to Corrections Officer (CO) Wendell Sowards, he was threatened by Sowards and told to keep quiet.

{¶4} Finally, plaintiff asserts that Wardell and DeFeo broke their promise of confidentiality and disclosed embarrassing facts about his relationship with Weatherspoon to members of defendant's staff, other inmates and the parole authority. Plaintiff alleges that disclosure of this information damaged his reputation and subjected him to hatred, ridicule, and threats of violence.

{¶5} Based upon these allegations, plaintiffs complaint states a claim against defendant for negligence, civil conspiracy, and invasion of privacy. The court however, finds that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to impose liability upon defendant under any legal theory.

{¶6} In order for plaintiff to prevail upon his claim of negligence, plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant owed him a duty, that defendant's acts or omissions resulted in a breach of that duty, and that the breach proximately caused plaintiff's injuries. Armstrong v. Best Buy Company, Inc., 99 Ohio St.3d 79, 81, 2003-Ohio-2573, citing Menifee v. Ohio Welding Products, Inc. (1984), 15 Ohio St.3d 75, 77.

{¶7} With regard to the alleged assault by inmate White, the evidence demonstrates that White was a former cell mate of plaintiff. White invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned by plaintiff about the alleged assault and plaintiff provided the court with only sketchy details about the incident. According to Wardell, she first learned of the alleged assault from plaintiff in February 2004, whereupon she reported the information to DeFeo. When Defoe met with White, he denied assaulting plaintiff. DeFeo then reported his findings to the appropriate prison authorities, after which White was charged with a rules infraction; however, White was later cleared after a hearing. The incident was investigated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol but no criminal charges were filed. Plaintiff admitted on cross-examination that when he provided a statement to the Patrol, he informed the trooper that he did not want charges filed.

{¶8} Plaintiff neither alleged nor proved that the claimed assault should have been prevented by defendant or that defendant had actual or constructive notice of an impending assault by White. The evidence also fails to support plaintiffs contention that defendant's staff ignored his report of rape. In short, even if the court were to find that a sexual assault did occur, the evidence does not support a finding either that defendant was negligent in failing to prevent the assault or that defendant conspired to conceal evidence of the criminal activity.

{¶9} The remainder of plaintiffs claims turn on his consensual sexual relationship with Weatherspoon. At the time of trial, Weatherspoon had been released on parole and he did not testify.

{¶10} At the outset, the court finds no credible evidence to support plaintiffs contention that Wardell or DeFeo either encouraged plaintiffs sexual activity or that they elicited private and intimate details from plaintiff that were to be used as research material for a future ...

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