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Johnson v. Aultman Hospital

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Stark

March 30, 2018

ANGELA JOHNSON Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
AULTMAN HOSPITAL, et al. Defendants-Appellees

          Civil Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2016 CV 01468

          For Plaintiff-Appellant ANDREA L. WHITAKER WILLIAM T. WHITAKER WILLIAM T. WHITAKER CO., LPA

          For Defendants-Appellees BRUCE G.HEAREY KATHLEEN J. SANZ OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART

          Hon. John W. Wise, P. J., Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J., Hon. Earle E. Wise, Jr., J.

          OPINION

          WISE, JOHN, P. J.

         {¶1} Appellant Angela Johnson appeals the July 6, 2016, decision of the Stark County Common Pleas Court granting summary judgment in favor of Appellees Aultman Hospital and Marie Hooper.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND CASE

         {¶2} In December, 2012, Appellant Angela Johnson was hired by Appellee Aultman Hospital as an oncology nurse. In June, 2015, Aultman's Pharmacy Unit ran a routine, random audit of its nurses' narcotics withdrawal and administration records. Appellant's scores over a three-month period were found to be higher than usual and higher than her peers. Additionally, approximately twenty-one (21) discrepancies were found in which Appellant had either failed to document her administration of narcotics that she had withdrawn, or she had withdrawn more medication than a particular patient's prescription called for.

         {¶3} On July 1, 2015, Appellee Marie Hooper, Appellant's immediate supervisor, met with Appellant to bring these discrepancies to her attention. Appellant was unable to provide an explanation for all of the discrepancies, and Appellant was suspended pending further investigation.

         {¶4} On July 13, 2015, Hooper met with Appellant again and notified her that she was being terminated for failure to follow proper protocol regarding medication administration and for theft of narcotics. Appellant denied that she had stolen any drugs and initiated an action with the Ohio Unemployment Compensation Review Commission. Following hearings and testimony, the hearing officer on December 22, 2015, concluded that Appellant had been terminated for just cause.

         {¶5} On June 24, 2016, Appellant filed a Complaint in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas against Appellees Aultman Hospital and Marie Hooper alleging eight causes of action: (1) breach of implied contract; (2) wrongful discharge; (3) libel; (4) slander; (5) tortious interference with employment relationship; (6) respondeat superior; (7) tortious interference with future employment; and (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         {¶6} On July 27, 2016, Appellees filed a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) Motion to Dismiss.

         {¶7} On November 17, 2016, the trial court granted Appellees' motion to dismiss as to six of the eight causes of action. Appellant's causes of action for breach of implied contract and wrongful termination remained.

         {¶8} On November 28, 2016, Appellant voluntarily dismissed her wrongful discharge claim, leaving only the claim for breach of implied contract against Aultman Hospital.

         {¶9} On December 16, 2016, Appellant filed a new Complaint (Case No. 2016CV02741) reasserting only the defamation claims, and the two cases were consolidated on February 21, 2017.

         {¶10} On April 17, 2017, Appellees filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

         {¶11} On July 6, 2016, the trial court granted Appellees' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         {¶12} Appellant now appeals, assigning the following errors for review:

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         {¶13} "I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON WHETHER THERE EXISTS AN IMPLIED DUTY OF CONTINUED EMPLOYMENT IN THE ABSENCE OF JUST CAUSE WHEN THERE IS A GENUINE ISSUE OF MATERIAL FACT AS TO WHETHER THE ALLEGED BASIS OF THE DISCHARGE IS A FALSE CLAIM THAT CAUSES FORESEEABLE HARM BEYOND AND GREATER THAN LOSS OF EMPLOYMENT; TO WIT, THAT THE EMPLOYER CAUSED FORESEEABLE HARM BY DISCHARGING APPELLANT ON THE BASIS OF A FALSE ACCUSATION OF A THEFT OF DRUGS TRIGGERING A FALSE REPORT TO THE STATE BOARD OF NURSING.

         {¶14} "II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON APPELLANT'S DEFAMATION CLAIMS AS THERE ARE GENUINE DISPUTES OF MATERIAL FACT AS TO 1) WHETHER THE DEFENDANTS FALSE REPORT TO THE OHIO BOARD OF NURSING WAS MADE BY THE DEFENDANTS AND, IF SO, WHETHER IT IS PROTECTED BY QUALIFIED IMMUNITY, AND 2) WHETHER DEFENDANT MARIE HOOPER MADE DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS TO A FRIEND OF THE APPELLANT FALSELY CLAIMING THAT APPELLANT STOLE DRUGS FROM AULTMAN HOSPITAL"

         Summary Judgment Standard

         {¶15} Summary judgment proceedings present the appellate court with the unique opportunity of reviewing the evidence in the same manner as the trial court. Smiddy v. The Wedding Party, Inc. (1987), 30 Ohio St.3d 35, 36, 506 N.E.2d 212. Civ.R. 56(C) provides, in pertinent part:

Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, written admissions, affidavits, transcripts of evidence in the pending case, 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. * * * A summary judgment shall not be rendered unless it appears from such evidence or stipulation and only therefrom, 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, such party being entitled to have the evidence or stipulation construed most strongly in his favor.

         {¶16} Pursuant to the above rule, a trial court may not enter a summary judgment if it appears a material fact is genuinely disputed. The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the trial court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The moving party may not make a conclusory assertion that the nonmoving party has no evidence to prove its case. The moving party must specifically point to some evidence *759 which demonstrates the non-moving party cannot support its claim. If the moving party satisfies this requirement, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts ...


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