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Vacha v. City of North Ridgeville

Supreme Court of Ohio

July 17, 2013

Vacha, Appellee,
The City of North Ridgeville, Appellant, et al.

Submitted February 26, 2013

Appeal from and Certified by the Court of Appeals for Lorain County, No.10CA009750, 2011-Ohio-2446.

John P. Hildebrand Co., L.P.A., and John Hildebrand Sr., for appellee.

Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder Co., L.P.A., John T. McLandrich, James A. Climer, and Frank H. Scialdone, for appellant.

Ice Miller, L.L.P., Stephen L. Byron, Stephen J. Smith, and Chris W. Michael; and John Gotherman, urging reversal for amicus curiae Ohio Municipal League.

Giorgianni Law, L.L.C., and Paul Giorgianni, urging affirmance for amicus curiae Ohio Association for Justice.

French, J.

{¶ 1} This certified-conflict and discretionary appeal presents the following two issues: (1) whether R.C. 2744.09(B), an exception to political-subdivision immunity from tort liability, applies to employer-intentional-tort claims by a political subdivision's employee and (2) whether appellant, the city of North Ridgeville, was entitled to summary judgment on its former employee's employer-intentional-tort claim, based on political-subdivision immunity. Consistent with Sampson v. Cuyahoga Metro. Hous. Auth., 131 Ohio St.3d 418, 2012-Ohio-570, 966 N.E.2d 247, we hold that R.C. 2744.09(B) may apply to an employer-intentional-tort claim by a political subdivision's employee, and we hold that North Ridgeville was not entitled to summary judgment on the intentional-tort claim brought by appellee, Lisa Vacha, here. Accordingly, we affirm the court of appeals' judgment.

Facts and Procedural History

{¶ 2} In March 2000, North Ridgeville hired Vacha as a helper in its French Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. As a helper, Vacha's duties included basic plant maintenance and water testing. North Ridgeville later promoted Vacha to the position of unlicensed operator. An unlicensed operator has the same duties as a helper but is also responsible for meter readings.

{¶ 3} In 2004, North Ridgeville posted a job opening for another helper at the French Creek plant. The North Ridgeville mayor, G. David Gillock, asked Charles Ralston to apply for the helper position at the French Creek plant and asked the plant superintendent, Donald Daley, to grant Ralston an interview. Ralston, the father of two of Mayor Gillock's grandchildren, was unemployed and in arrears with his child support. Mayor Gillock had known Ralston for about eight years and was aware that his daughter had twice called the police on Ralston for domestic violence. The mayor did not, however, know that Ralston had a criminal record.

{¶ 4} Ralston applied for the helper position at the French Creek plant. North Ridgeville inquires about felonies on its employment application, but it does not conduct a criminal-background check before hiring an employee unless the position requires security or leadership. In his employment application, Ralston truthfully answered that he did not have a felony record. Between 1994 and 1999, however, Ralston was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, assault, and disorderly conduct. Daley interviewed Ralston, but did not ask whether Ralston had a criminal record. Daley was pleased with Ralston's interview, and North Ridgeville hired him for the helper position.

{¶ 5} Ralston worked at the French Creek plant from March 2004 to June 2, 2006. During Ralston's employment at the plant, Vacha worked as an unlicensed operator. At some point, Vacha and Ralston had a verbal altercation after Vacha complained about Ralston's wife driving onto the plant grounds. After that altercation, however, Vacha and Ralston worked together without incident (until the event underlying this case) and occasionally socialized outside of work. Vacha occasionally drove Ralston to work. From January 2006 to June 2, 2006, Vacha and Ralston worked the 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. shift together, generally alone and unsupervised.

{¶ 6} On June 2, 2006, Vacha picked Ralston up and drove him to the plant for the night shift. During their shift, Vacha permitted Ralston to drive her truck to purchase beer. After returning to the plant, Ralston raped and assaulted Vacha. Vacha fled the plant on foot and reported the rape to the police. Ralston was convicted of rape and sentenced to prison.

{¶ 7} In June 2008, Vacha filed this action against Ralston and North Ridgeville in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. In her amended complaint, Vacha brought claims against Ralston for damages resulting from the assault and rape and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Vacha alleged the following four claims for relief against North Ridgeville: (1) negligent hiring and supervising of Ralston, (2) vicarious liability for Ralston's actions, (3) reckless hiring and supervision of Ralston, and (4) intentional, ...

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