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Morris v. Broska

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Portage

June 24, 2019

CLAYTON MORRIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
GLENN M. BROSKA, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

          Civil Appeal from the Portage County Case No. 2016 CV 00511 Court of Common Pleas

          Stephen J. Pruneski, Law Offices of Stephen J. Pruneski, LLC, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          John D. Latchney, OToole, McLaughlin, Dooley & Pecora, (For Defendants-Appellants).

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. WRIGHT, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellants, the City of Streetsboro, Mayor Glenn M. Broska, and Law Director Paul Janis, appeal the trial court's denial of their motion for summary judgment seeking immunity on three of the seven claims, tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with economic advantage, and civil conspiracy. We reverse and remand.

         {¶2} Appellee, Clayton Morris, was employed by the City of Streetsboro as its director of human resources for approximately four years. In March 2016, a dispute arose regarding whether a city employee was wrongfully accessing Mayor Broska's administrative assistant's computer. The dispute was referred for review to Teletronics Services, Inc., the company responsible for managing the city's computer system. Within one day, a senior-systems engineer with Teletronics determined that someone using appellee's account name and security identification had connected to four different city computers on multiple occasions during a three-week period. According to the engineer, the computers of Mayor Broska and Law Director Janis were among those that had been accessed.

         {¶3} Appellee's desktop computer was confiscated from his office in the municipal building and given to the senior-systems engineer so that he could review the files saved to its hard drive. When the engineer showed the files to the administrative assistant, she saw personal e-mails belonging to Mayor Broska. After consulting with Law Director Janis, Mayor Broska terminated appellee's employment.

         {¶4} Upon inspection of the computer, appellee's expert found that a "malicious application" had been downloaded to its hard drive. And within one day after appellee's termination, an external hard drive was employed to download 1, 943 new files to his computer. During deposition, Matthew Coffman, a senior-systems engineer with Teletronics, testified that he was involved in attaching the external hard drive.

         {¶5} Mayor Broska, Law Director Janis, and Streetsboro moved for summary judgment on all seven claims. As to tortious interference with contracts, the motion asserted separate arguments for each. Broska contended that this claim pertains solely to the contract between Streetsboro and appellee, and that as appellee's supervisor, he could not be sued for terminating appellee's employment because he was a party to the contract. Janis argued the claim was based upon alleged advice Janis gave to Broska in firing appellee, and, as a Streetsboro employee, Janis could have no liability for giving that advice because he too was a party to the contract between Streetsboro and appellee.

         {¶6} Regarding appellee's civil conspiracy claim, Broska and Janis argued that after they were declared immune from the "tortious interference with contract" claim, appellee would be unable to prevail on the civil conspiracy claim because there would be no underlying tort upon which to base the conspiracy. In relation to Streetsboro, the summary judgment motion asserted, as to the claims of tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and civil conspiracy, Streetsboro is immune from liability because all three claims are intentional torts.

         {¶7} In response, appellee did not contest that Streetsboro cannot be liable for tortious interference with a contract. As to Broska and Janis, though, appellee maintained that they are not immune because the motion mischaracterized the basis of his claim; i.e., according to appellee, the claim is predicated upon the effect Broska's and Janis' actions had on contracts he had with other municipalities, not his contract with Streetsboro.

         {¶8} The trial court did not individually address each claim, but generally held that the case should proceed to trial because there is conflicting evidence concerning whether appellee was wrongfully terminated and whether Broska, Janis, and Streetsboro conspired to "frame" him by transferring files to his computer's hard drive after he was terminated.

         {¶9} Broska, Janis, and Streetsboro limit their arguments on appeal to the denial of summary judgment based on immunity on appellee's tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and civil conspiracy claims. Their three assignments of error provide:

         {¶10} "[1.] The trial court erred in denying Appellants City of Streetsboro, Law Director Paul Janis, and Glenn M. Broska's motion for summary judgment relative to amended ...


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