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Louscher v. University of Akron

Court of Claims of Ohio

May 15, 2017

SUSAN M. LOUSCHER Plaintiff
v.
UNIVERSITY OF AKRON Defendant

          Sent to S.C. Reporter 6/16/17

          Frank S. Carson Randall W. Knutti Assistant Attorneys General.

          Holly True Shaver Magistrate Judge.

          DECISION

          PATRICK M. MCGRATH Judge.

         {¶1} On May 3, 2016, the court granted, in part, defendant's October 22, 2015 motion for summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs claims of defamation prior to March 17, 2014 were barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and that defendant was entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs claim of negligent hiring and retention. The court denied defendant's motion as to any claims of defamation on or after March 17, 2014, and plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         {¶2} On March 6, 2017, defendant filed a second motion for summary judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 56(B). On March 20, 2017, plaintiff filed a response. On March 27, 2017, defendant filed a motion for leave to file a reply to plaintiff's response, which is GRANTED. Defendant's second motion for summary judgment is now ripe for review by the court. See Civ.R. 56, L.C.C.R. 4.

         {¶3} Civ.R. 56(C) states, in part, as follows:

         {¶4} "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. No evidence or stipulation may be considered except as stated in this rule. A summary judgment shall not be rendered unless it appears from the evidence or stipulation, and only from the evidence or stipulation, that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse to the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that party being entitled to have the evidence or stipulation construed most strongly in the party's favor." See also Gilbert v. Summit Cty., 104 Ohio St.3d 660, 2004-Ohio-7108, citing Temple v. Wean United, Inc., 50 Ohio St.2d 317 (1977).

         {¶5} The following facts are taken from the court's May 3, 2016 decision:

         {¶6} "Plaintiff is employed at defendant's university as the Project Manager and Executive Director of the National Center for Education and Research on Corrosion and Materials Performance (NCERCAMP). In 2006, defendant's president, Dr. Luis Proenza, appointed plaintiff to conduct a preliminary exploration of the potential opportunities associated with a new academic program that would support the corrosion prevention and mitigation industry. Plaintiff asserts that George Haritos, Dean of the College of Engineering, opposed the idea of a new program, and that from 2006 forward, he harassed her, obstructed her work, made false statements about her, and subjected her to humiliation, emotional distress, and mental anguish.

         {¶7} "In May 2008, the College of Engineering became the academic home for the corrosion engineering degree despite Dean Haritos' opposition to it. (Amended complaint, ¶ 22.) In June 2009, plaintiff became Project Director in the College of Engineering. In July 2010, plaintiff became the Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships and Government Programs for the College of Engineering. Plaintiff reported to both Proenza and Haritos. (Complaint, ¶ 45.) The United States Department of Defense provided federal grant funding to support NCERCAMP, and eventually, defendant established the nation's first baccalaureate degree in corrosion engineering. Grant funds were provided to hire academic faculty for the degree program, and to build laboratory space for NCERCAMP. (Amended complaint, ¶ 38.) Plaintiff asserts that Dean Haritos 'never believed in the merits of the program, saw it as a competitor for space, funding, students, [and] faculty' and unreasonably opposed her work in the establishment of NCERCAMP programs, which resulted in delayed curriculum development and missed deadlines. (Amended complaint, ¶ 24.) Plaintiff further alleges that 'Dean Haritos and others viewed NCERCAMP's funds as a way to solve financial problems in the College of Engineering and used NCERCAMP monies for things not included in the agreements, such as new staff in the College of Engineering Co-Op Office and in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. (Amended complaint, ¶ 40.)

         {¶8} "During a meeting to discuss a proposal to move NCERCAMP from the College of Engineering to a university-level center that would report to Dr. George Newkome, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, plaintiff asserts that Dean Haritos became irate and falsely accused her in front of the Associate Dean for Research and the Chair for Chemical Engineering of 'deliberately undermining the Department of Transportation's proposal and blaming [her] for its failure.' (Amended complaint, ¶ 65.) Plaintiff asserts that Dean Haritos' false statements damaged her professional reputation, undermined her authority to fulfill NCERCAMP's obligations, and caused her emotional distress and mental anguish. (Amended complaint, ¶ 65.) Plaintiff further asserts that from 2006 through March 2015, Dean Haritos 'made false and defamatory statements concerning Plaintiff personally, and her qualifications and abilities'; that his delays in allocating office equipment and making necessary decisions in purchasing equipment and hiring personnel resulted in faculty expressing concerns that any research that they conducted for NCERCAMP would not be counted toward research to obtain tenure; and that he falsely told others that she was unqualified and overpaid for her job. (Amended complaint, ¶ 54-55, 72, 80.)"

         {¶9} In its second motion for summary judgment, defendant asserts that every allegedly defamatory statement that plaintiff asserts Haritos made about her is either a constitutionally protected opinion or subject to a qualified privilege, and that plaintiff has not brought forth evidence from which to reasonably conclude that Haritos acted with actual malice. In addition, defendant asserts that Haritos' alleged conduct does not support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court notes that the depositions of Elizabeth Estep, Rex Ramsier, George Haritos, and plaintiff have been filed since the decision on the original motion for summary judgment. Upon review of the evidence permitted by Civ.R. 56, the court makes the following determination.

         I. ...


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