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Campbell v. Licking Heights Local S.D.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Licking

July 1, 2019

STEPHEN A. CAMPBELL Plaintiff-Appellant
LICKING HEIGHTS LOCAL S.D., et al. Defendants-Appellees

          Civil Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2018 CV 00488



          Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P. J. Hon. John W. Wise, J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J.


          Wise, J.

         {¶1} Plaintiff-Appellant Stephen A. Campbell appeals the decision of the Court of Common Pleas, Licking County, which granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees Licking County Family YMCA and Brianna Michelle Gibson in a libel action filed by appellant. The relevant facts leading to this appeal are as follows.

         1. Events of February 14, 2018

         {¶2} According to the underlying civil complaint in this matter, Appellant Campbell went to Licking Heights South Elementary School (LHSE) on February 14, 2018, in order to deliver a Valentine's Day present to his daughter, who was at that location participating in an after-school program run by the YMCA. At the time, appellant and his ex-wife, Nichole Campbell, were involved in adversarial proceedings in a domestic relations matter in Franklin County, Ohio.

         {¶3} Appellant asserted in his aforementioned complaint that he took the gift (a balloon and homemade cookies) to the school office and then departed the premises immediately. It appears undisputed that he had no interaction with his daughter during this visit to the school. However, one of the YMCA employees, Kathalyn Gensler-Nic, observed that the daughter, visibly upset by the gift, subsequently threw most of it away. See Gensler-Nic Tr. at 15.

         2. Events of March 15, 2018

         {¶4} Approximately one month later, appellant found out that Gensler-Nic's name had come up on an amended witness list prepared by appellant's ex-wife's attorney in the Franklin County domestic relations case, concerning an "[i]ncident in 2018 when [appellant] came to the child's school." See Plaintiff's Complaint Exhibit A.

         {¶5} According to the underlying complaint in the present case, appellant went to LHSE again on the afternoon of March 15, 2018, this time to discuss the aforesaid matter with Gensler-Nic. Complaint at paragraph 14. Gensler-Nic later recalled that during their discussion, appellant referred to his ex-wife as "the devil." Franklin County Tr. at 13.[1] Appellant also told Gensler-Nic that he would be obtaining a subpoena for her for participation in future proceedings. Id.

         {¶6} Gensler-Nic felt uncomfortable during the aforesaid conversation, and she reported the encounter with appellant to her YMCA supervisors. As a result, Gensler-Nic completed and signed two internal YMCA "incident reports," one concerning February 14, 2108, and one concerning March 15, 2018.

         3. Events of March 22, 2018

         {¶7} On March 22, 2018, appellant went to LHSE a third time, this time to deliver a subpoena to Gensler-Nic. On this occasion, the front doors to the school had already been locked. As appellant waited outside, his daughter saw him from inside and began to cry. Brianna Gibson, another YMCA employee, then went to the front entrance and partially opened one of the doors. Appellant asked to speak to Gensler-Nic, but Gibson informed him she was not available. Gibson asked him twice to leave, and he did so after the second request. Franklin County Tr. at 45-47.

         {¶8} After speaking with her supervisors, Gibson contacted law enforcement. A Pataskala police officer arrived and took a report. Gibson also completed and signed internal YMCA incident reports.

         Court Proceedings

         {¶9} On May 7, 2018, Appellant Campbell filed a pro se civil complaint in the Licking County Court of Common Pleas ("trial court") against the Licking Heights Local School District, Philip Wagner, Ph.D., the Licking County YMCA Foundation, Brianna Gibson, and Nichole Campbell. The complaint set forth two causes of action: (1) Filing a False Police Report and (2) Libel.

         {¶10} Appellees Licking County YMCA Foundation (also identified in the record as Licking County Family YMCA) and Brianna Gibson filed an answer on May 23, 2018.

         {¶11} In July 2018, the school district, Dr. Wagner, and Nichole Campbell were all dismissed from the lawsuit by order of the trial court.

         {¶12} On November 29, 2018, Licking County Family YMCA and Brianna Gibson (hereinafter "appellees") jointly filed a motion for summary judgment. Appellant filed a memorandum contra on December 17, 2018. Appellees filed a reply memorandum on December 19, 2018. Appellant filed a surreply on December 24, 2018.

         {¶13} On January 10, 2019, the trial court issued a judgment entry granting ...

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