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Raymond Sells v. Holiday Management Limited

November 17, 2011

RAYMOND SELLS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HOLIDAY MANAGEMENT LIMITED,
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. (C.P.C. No. 09CVH-12-19273)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: French, J.

Cite as Sells v. Holiday Mgt. Ltd.,

(REGULAR CALENDAR)

DECISION

{¶1} Plaintiff-appellant, Raymond Sells ("Sells"), appeals the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas' entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee, Holiday Management Limited ("HML"), on Sells' complaint for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

{¶2} From January 1, 2007 to March 3, 2009, Sells was employed as a maintenance technician by HML, an apartment management company. In this action, filed December 30, 2009, Sells alleged that HML wrongfully terminated his employment because of absences due to subpoenaed court appearances, in violation of the Ohio public policy set forth in Article I, Section 10, of the Ohio Constitution, and R.C. 2705.02.*fn1

{¶3} HML moved for summary judgment on November 24, 2010, and the trial court granted HML's motion on January 12, 2011, after determining that reasonable minds could not find that Sells' discharge was motivated by conduct related to the public policy. The trial court entered final judgment in favor of HML on February 3, 2011. II. ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

{¶4} Sells filed a timely notice of appeal and now raises the following assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred when it made a fact determination on the issue of causation regarding [Sells'] wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio public policy claim and in granting [HML's] Motion for Summary Judgment.

2. The trial court erred when it made a fact determination on the issue of overriding justification regarding [Sells'] wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio public policy claim and in granting [HML's] Motion for Summary Judgment when [HML] had not raised this [issue] in its Motion.

III. DISCUSSION

A. FIRST ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

{¶5} In his first assignment, Sells contends that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of HML. We review a summary judgment de novo. Koos v. Cent. Ohio Cellular, Inc. (1994), 94 Ohio App.3d 579, 588, citing Brown v. Scioto Cty. Bd. of Commrs. (1993), 87 Ohio App.3d 704, 711. We apply the same standard as the trial court and conduct an independent review, without deference to the trial court's determination. Maust v. Bank One Columbus, N.A. (1992), 83 Ohio App.3d 103, 107; Brown at 711. We must affirm the trial court's judgment if any grounds the movant raised in the trial court support it. Coventry Twp. v. Ecker (1995), 101 Ohio App.3d 38, 41-42.

{¶6} Pursuant to Civ.R. 56(C), summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, written admissions, affidavits, transcripts of evidence, and written stipulations of fact, if any, timely filed in the action, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Accordingly, summary judgment is appropriate only under the following circumstances: (1) no genuine issue of material fact remains to be litigated; (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law; and (3) viewing the evidence most strongly in favor of the non-moving party, reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, that conclusion being adverse to the non- moving party. Harless v. Willis Day Warehousing Co. (1978), 54 Ohio St.2d 64, 66.

{¶7} "[T]he moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the trial court of the basis for the motion, and identifying those portions of the record before the trial court which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of fact on a material element of the nonmoving party's claim." Dresher v. Burt, 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 292, 1996-Ohio-107. Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 293. Because summary judgment is a procedural device to terminate litigation, courts should award it cautiously after resolving all doubts in favor of the non-moving party. Murphy v. Reynoldsburg, 65 Ohio St.3d 356, 358-59, 1992-Ohio-95, quoting Norris v. Ohio Std. Oil Co. (1982), 70 Ohio St.2d 1, 2.

{¶8} In Ohio, the common-law doctrine of employment at will governs employment relationships. Dohme v. Eurand Am., Inc., __ Ohio St.3d __, 2011-Ohio- 4609, ¶11. Either party to an at-will employment relationship may generally terminate the relationship at any time and for any reason not contrary to law. Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co. (1985), 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 103. The termination of an at-will employment relationship does not usually give rise to an action for damages. Collins v. Rizkana, 73 Ohio St.3d 65, 67, 1995-Ohio-135. If, however, an employer discharges or disciplines an employee in contravention of a clear public policy articulated in the Ohio or United States Constitution, federal or state statutes, administrative rules and regulations or common law, a cause of action may exist in tort for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Dohme at ¶11.

{¶9} To succeed on a claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, a plaintiff must establish the following four elements:

" '1. That clear public policy existed and was manifested in a state or federal constitution, statute or administrative regulation, or in the common law (the clarity element).

" '2. That dismissing employees under circumstances like those involved in the plaintiff's dismissal would jeopardize the ...


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