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Munday v. Village of Lincoln Heights

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District

July 17, 2013

COURTNEY MUNDAY, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
VILLAGE OF LINCOLN HEIGHTS, and OFFICER S. BEGLEY, Defendants-Appellants, and VILLAGE OF LINCOLN HEIGHTS POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant.

Civil Appeal From Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL NO. A-1007663

David E. Stenson, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

Surdyk, Dowd & Turner, Co., L.P.A., Jeffrey C. Turner, Dawn M. Frick and Joshua R. Schierloh, for Defendants-Appellants.

OPINION

Cunningham, Judge

{¶1} Defendants-appellants the Village of Lincoln Heights ("the village") and Officer Steven Begley, formerly employed as a village police officer, appeal from the order of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas denying them summary judgment on the basis of immunity. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court's judgment.

I. Background Facts and Procedure

{¶2} This case arose out of an incident occurring on August 22, 2008. On that date, Begley was employed as a police officer with the Lincoln Heights Police Department, which performs police functions for the Village of Lincoln Heights, a political subdivision of the state of Ohio.

{¶3} While on duty, Begley arrested plaintiff-appellee Courtney Munday under suspicion of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Begley handcuffed Munday and placed him in the rear of his police cruiser to transport him to the Evendale Police Department, in a neighboring jurisdiction, for the administration of a breathalyzer test. Begley did not restrain Munday with a seat belt, although he did recall securely shutting the back door of the cruiser. Consistent with his regular practice, he then activated the door locking mechanism in the front of his cruiser, which controls both the front and rear doors of the cruiser if the safety-lock mechanism has been activated and is working properly.

{¶4} While on the way to Evendale, Begley drove onto the I-75 entrance ramp and began making his way around the curve on the ramp at approximately 30-35 m.p.h. As the cruiser neared the straightaway, the rear door on the driver's side opened, and Munday fell out and onto the roadway.

{¶5} Begley testified in his deposition that before the door opened, he had heard the "distinctive sound" of the "door mechanism" opening and that he had seen, through the rearview mirror, that Munday's right hand was behind his back, holding onto the door panel in an attempt to escape. He also testified that no one had ever attempted to escape from his cruiser and that he had no reason to believe that his safety locks had not been activated or were not working properly.

{¶6} Munday testified in his deposition that he had not attempted to escape from the vehicle. Instead, he claimed that the door had popped open with the force of his weight when the officer drove the cruiser around the curve on the entrance ramp. He believed that Begley had been driving at 30 to 40 m.p.h., but he had not seen the speedometer.

{¶7} Upon Munday's exit, Begley immediately stopped his cruiser and attended to Munday, who was transported to the hospital for treatment. He suffered road rash, multiple contusions, and back injuries.

{¶8} Munday then filed an action for personal injury against the village, the village's police department, and Officer Begley based on Begley's "negligence." Munday specifically pleaded that he had been "ejected" from the "moving" cruiser while in transport after his arrest, and that the officer had handcuffed him and had failed to "secure" him in the back seat. Munday sought compensatory damages and, in addition, treble damages and attorney fees. Notably, the complaint did not present a claim against the village or its police department other than one based on respondeat superior, and it did not set forth any conduct involving malicious purpose, bad faith, or wanton or reckless conduct.

{¶9} The trial court initially entered default judgment against the defendants, but it vacated that judgment in response to the defendants' Civ.R. 60(B) motion. The village and Begley answered the complaint, raising immunity under R.C. Chapter 2744, the Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act, as an affirmative defense. They then moved for summary judgment on the entire claim on the basis of immunity and, additionally, on the issue of whether Munday could be awarded treble damages. In support, they cited the pleadings and Begley's and Munday's depositions, which they had filed with the court.

{¶10} In his memorandum opposing summary judgment, Munday argued that a genuine issue of material fact remained as to whether Begley had acted wantonly or recklessly where he had driven at an unreasonable speed on an on-ramp, had not secured Munday with a seat belt, had failed to ensure that the door locks were engaged properly, and had known that Munday was inebriated. He also suggested that the village was wanton and reckless for failing to purchase police vehicles with proper safety locks and for failing to establish procedures requiring its officer to determine if the safety locks in the village's police cruiser were operational and activated before transporting offenders.

{¶11} In support of his argument that summary judgment was not appropriate, Munday cited to his and Begley's depositions, interrogatory answers, the affidavit of Whitney Butler, a retired Dayton police officer, and the deposition of Sergeant Leroy Smith, Jr., of the village's police department. Munday, however, never filed Smith's deposition with the court.

{¶12} In their reply brief in support of summary judgment, the village and Begley emphasized that Munday was asking the court to stray way beyond the pleadings, as he had not alleged in the complaint that Begley had acted wantonly or recklessly, and he had not asserted any independent claims against the village.

{¶13} The trial court granted the village's and Begley's summary judgment motion with respect to the issue of treble damages, but it denied them summary judgment on the basis of immunity.[1] The court did not issue ...


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