Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
BLAKE A. DICKSON PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
PAMELA L. GORSKI DEFENDANT-APPELLEE
Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Blake A. Dickson Danielle Chaffin The
Dickson Firm, L.L.C.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Monica A. Sansalone Matthew Norman
Gallagher Sharp L.L.P.
BEFORE: S. Gallagher, J., Keough, A.J., and Celebrezze, J.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
C. GALLAGHER, J.
Blake Dickson appeals the judgment entered on the pleadings
in favor of Pamela Gorski. The allegations in the complaint
stem from Gorski's performance of duties as guardian ad
litem in Dickson's domestic relations case, Cuyahoga C.P.
No. DR-13-348970 ("divorce case"). The trial court
accordingly held that Gorski was entitled to absolute
immunity from the claims asserted in the separate proceeding.
Gorski was appointed by the domestic relations court to serve
as a guardian ad litem during Dickson's divorce
proceedings. At the conclusion of the divorce case, Gorski
was awarded fees totaling around $33, 000 for services
rendered. Dickson was responsible for half. After obtaining a
judgment lien against Dickson, Gorski initiated proceedings
to collect on the judgment. Dickson then filed a motion for
relief from judgment in the divorce case, which is the
subject of another appeal pending in 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No.
105318. In this action, Dickson claims Gorski was negligent
in performing her obligations as the guardian ad litem and
committed fraud through requesting excessive fees for
services not rendered.
Gorski answered the complaint and filed a motion for judgment
on the pleadings under Civ.R. 12(C), claiming that she is
entitled to absolute immunity in the separate action for any
actions arising from her service as the guardian ad litem.
The trial court agreed and entered judgment in favor of
Gorski upon all claims. Dickson appealed.
In the sole assignment of error, Dickson claims the trial
court erred by applying the doctrine of absolute immunity in
this case. Essentially, he seeks an exception allowing for a
factual, case-by-case inquiry into whether a guardian ad
litem is entitled to assert immunity for actions arising from
her performance of the duties associated with the
We review a ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings
de novo. Thornton v. Cleveland, 176 Ohio App.3d 122,
2008-Ohio-1709, 890 N.E.2d 353, ¶ 3 (8th Dist). Motions
for judgment on the pleadings are governed by Civ.R. 12(C),
which states: "After the pleadings are closed but within
such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for
judgment on the pleadings." "In order to be
entitled to a dismissal under Civ.R. 12(C), it must appear
beyond doubt that [the nonmovant] can prove no set of facts
warranting the requested relief, after construing all
material factual allegations in the complaint and all
reasonable inferences therefrom in [the nonmovant's]
favor." State ex rel. Toledo v. Lucas Cty. Bd. of
Elections, 95 Ohio St.3d 73, 74, 2002-Ohio-1383, 765
Absolute immunity, as a complete defense to the claims
advanced in a complaint, can be raised on motion to dismiss
or judgment on the pleadings. Pisani v. Pisani, 8th
Dist. Cuyahoga No. 72136, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 5549, 4 (Dec.
11, 1997); Dolan v. Kronenberg, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga
No. 76054, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 3387, 7 (July 22, 1999).
"The existence of immunity as a defense in a civil
action is a purely legal issue, properly determined by a
trial court prior to trial." Rolfe v. Giusto,
8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 87831, 2007-Ohio-78, ¶ 9, citing
Kronenberg and Goad v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Commrs.,
79 Ohio App.3d 521, 524, 607 N.E.2d 878 (8th Dist.1992).
The law is not in dispute. A guardian ad litem is entitled to
absolute immunity against a collateral attack on her
performance of the duties as a matter of law. For example, in
Giusto, summary judgment in favor of the guardian ad
litem was affirmed, with the court recognizing that a
guardian ad litem enjoys absolute immunity from tort actions
arising out of service as guardian ad litem. Giusto
at ¶ 10; Lisboa v. Lisboa, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga
No. 95673, 2011-Ohio-351, ¶ 21. Similarly, in Penn
v. McMonagle, 60 Ohio App.3d 149, 152, 573 N.E.2d 1234
(6th Dist.1990), the Sixth Appellate District agreed, noting
that a guardian ad litem acts in a quasi-judicial function
and is entitled to the same immunity afforded to the
judiciary when the allegations stem from the performance of
the duties attendant to the appointment. Id., citing
Wilson v. Neu, 12 Ohio St.3d 102, 465 N.E.2d 854
(1984); see also Kellogg v. Daulton, 10th Dist.
Franklin No. 06AP-106, 2006-Ohio-4115, ¶ 8; Williams
v. Barrick, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 08AP-133,
2008-Ohio-4592, ¶ 12. Ohio is not alone in recognizing
that a guardian ad litem is entitled to absolute immunity for
actions arising out of the performance of her duties.
Dahl v. Dahl, 744 F.3d 623, 630 (10th
Cir.2014), citing Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S.
193, 199, 106 S.Ct. 496, 88 L.Ed.2d 507 (1985); Cok v.
Cosentino, 876 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir.1989); Gardner
ex rel Gardner v. Parson, 874 F.2d 131, 146 (3d
Cir.1989); Fleming v. Asbill, 42 F.3d 886, 889 (4th
Cir.1994); Kurzawa v. Mueller, 732 F.2d 1456, 1458
(6th Cir.1984); Cooney v. Rossiter, 583 F.3d 967,
970 (7th Cir.2009); McCuen v. Polk Cty., Iowa, 893
F.2d 172, 174 (8th Cir.1990); Wideman v. Colorado,
409 Fed.Appx. 184, 186 (10th Cir.2010).
Despite the well-settled authority to the contrary, Dickson
claims that a guardian ad litem's immunity should not be
absolute because if that is the case,
a [guardian ad litem] is free to charge whatever hourly rate
she chooses (despite a Local Rule mandating otherwise), sage
[sic] is free to grossly and falsely inflate the number of
hours that she spent on the case, she is free to bill for
work she did not do, she is free to knowingly act contrary to
the best interests of the children and she is free to take a
bribe from a party for a favorable report. And the party
against whom she is acting not only has no recourse for her
fraudulent, tortious, criminal actions, but they have to pay
her at whatever rate she chooses, for however many hours ...