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Boling v. Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

March 5, 2007


S.C. reporter April 19, 2007



{¶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. Plaintiff began a consensual sexual relationship with inmate William Weatherspoon while they were housed at Orient Correctional Institution. According to plaintiff, Weatherspoon failed to inform him that he was HIV positive; nevertheless, plaintiff continued to engage in a consensual sexual behavior with Weatherspoon. Plaintiff now claims that he was infected with HIV by Weatherspoon.

{¶3} When plaintiff and Weatherspoon were transferred to Madison Correctional Institution (MaCI), they enrolled in a sexual offender treatment program known as the Monticello program. In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that after he was transferred to MaCI, his relationship with Weatherspoon was strictly platonic. Plaintiff further alleges that defendant's mental health professionals, Jean Wardell and James DeFeo, falsely reported both to defendant's staff and to the parole board that plaintiff was still engaged in sexual conduct at MaCI. Finally, plaintiff claims that Wardell and DeFeo broke their promise of confidentiality and disclosed embarrassing facts about the relationship to members of defendant's staff, other inmates, and the parole authority. Plaintiff alleges that the disclosure of this information has damaged his reputation; that he has been subjected to hatred, ridicule, and threats of violence; and that defendant is liable in actions in negligence, defamation, and invasion of privacy.

{¶4} Notwithstanding plaintiffs claims, the evidence presented at trial is insufficient to support recovery under any legal theory.

{¶5} 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.

{¶6} At the time of trial, Weatherspoon had been released on parole and he did not testify. The facts relevant to plaintiff's claims are as follows.

{¶7} Wardell first met plaintiff when she was working at Orient Correctional Institution. She testified that she was aware that plaintiff was involved in a sexual relationship with another inmate but she did not learn that it was inmate Weatherspoon until October 12, 2001, when she had a meeting with plaintiff, plaintiff's mother, and plaintiff's stepfather. At that meeting, plaintiff acknowledged that he had been in a sexual relationship with Weatherspoon and that Weatherspoon had infected him with HIV.

{¶8} DeFeo held the position of psychologist supervisor in defendant's Monticello program. He testified that he became aware of plaintiff's sexual relationship with Weatherspoon after the two had been admitted to the Monticello program. DeFeo allowed plaintiff and Weatherspoon to remain in the program with the understanding that they would discontinue their behavior. DeFeo also acknowledged that at some point after plaintiff joined the program, he learned of plaintiff's claim that Weatherspoon had infected him with HIV. DeFeo testified that he did not report plaintiffs claim to other prison officials because the sexual contact had allegedly occurred more than two years prior to that time and at a different institution.

{¶9} Corrections Officer (CO) Wendell Sowards worked in the dorm where plaintiff resided at MaCI. According to Sowards, Wardell told him that plaintiff had admitted his sexual relationship with Weatherspoon but that, when Sowards confronted the two inmates about their relationship, they denied the allegation. When Sowards received similar complaints about plaintiff and Weatherspoon in May 2004, he told the two men to stop their association. Sowards did not level charges against either inmate at that time because he did not have sufficient evidence of any rule violation.

{¶10} Sowards, DeFeo, and Wardell each testified that sexual activity is a violation of prison rules. In fact, plaintiff was suspended from the Monticello program when he admitted that his sexual relationship with Weatherspoon had not ended. Plaintiffs participation in the program was subsequently terminated at Wardell's request and with DeFeo's approval.

{¶11} In December 2004, plaintiff sent a letter to the Ohio State Highway Patrol complaining about both defendant' s decision to suspend him and Weatherspoon from the Monticello program and defendant's ongoing efforts to keep him and Weatherspoon separated. Although plaintiff mentioned in this letter that he and Weatherspoon were HIV positive, he did not request that charges be brought against Weatherspoon. Plaintiff also admitted on cross-examination that he never told the Patrol that Weatherspoon had infected him with HIV on the two prior occasions during which he had spoken to them while at MaCI.

{¶12} With respect to plaintiffs defamation claims, plaintiff admitted that he continued his involvement in a sexual relationship with Weatherspoon after he had been transferred to MaCI. Plaintiff also admitted that he told inmates outside of the Monticello program about his sexual relationship with Weatherspoon and the fact that Weatherspoon had infected him with HIV. Consequently, plaintiffs claim of defamation is completely negated by his own testimony. Similarly, with respect to plaintiffs claims based upon publication of private facts, both the terms of plaintiffs incarceration and the express terms of the Monticello agreement permit defendant' s employees to disclose otherwise private facts regarding plaintiffs behavior to those with a legitimate need to know. Under the circumstances of this case, the ...

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