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McConnell v. Dudley

Supreme Court of Ohio

November 20, 2019

McConnell et al., Appellees,
v.
Dudley; Coitsville Township Police Department et al., Appellants.

          Submitted June 12, 2019

          Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Mahoning County, No. 17 MA 0045, 2018-Ohio-341.

          Rafidi, Pallente & Melewski, Ryan J. Melewski, and Mark A. Rafidi; and Paul W. Flowers Co., L.P.A., Paul W. Flowers, and Louis E. Grube, for appellees.

          Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews, Gregory A. Beck, James F. Mathews, and Andrea K. Ziarko, for appellants.

          Zach Klein, Columbus City Attorney, and Lara N. Baker-Morrish and Andrew D. M. Miller, Assistant City Attorneys; Donnette A. Fisher, Xenia Director of Law; Garry E. Hunter; Isaac, Wiles, Burkholder & Teetor, L.L.C., Mark Landes, and Dale D. Cook; Jennifer A. Hardin; Lisa A. Eliason, Athens Director of Law; Robert F. Jacques, Oakwood Director of Law; Paula Boggs Muething, Cincinnati City Solicitor, and Peter J. Stackpole, Assistant City Solicitor; Mark M. Feinstein, Urbana Director of Law/Municipal Prosecutor; Lisa Okolish Miller, Barberton Director of Law; David J. Tarbert, Zanesville Director of Law; Eve V. Belfance, Akron Director of Law, and John Christopher Reece, Michael J. Defibaugh, and Brian D. Bremer, Assistant Directors of Law; Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder Co., L.P.A., and Paul-Michael La Fayette; Thrasher, Dinsmore & Dolan, L.P.A., and Dale H. Markowitz; L. James Juliano Jr., Cleveland Heights Director of Law; and Thomas N. Palmer, Galion Director of Law, urging reversal for amici curiae city of Columbus, city of Xenia, Ohio Municipal Attorneys Association, Ohio Municipal League, Buckeye State Sherriff's Association, Ohio Township Association, County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Ohio School Boards Association, mayor of the City of Athens, city of Oakwood, city of Cincinnati, city of Urbana, city of Barberton, city of Zanesville, city of Akron, village of Plain City, village of Chagrin Falls, city of Cleveland Heights, and city of Galion.

          Kristen Bates Aylward, Canton Director of Law, and Kevin R. L'Hommedieu, Canton Law Department; Andrea Scassa, Massillon Director of Law; and Jennifer L. Arnold, Alliance Director of Law, urging reversal for amici curiae cities of Canton, Massillon, and Alliance.

          Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A., and Margaret M. Murray, urging affirmance for amicus curiae Ohio Association for Justice.

          KENNEDY, J.

         {¶ 1} This discretionary appeal from the Seventh District Court of Appeals presents the issue whether, under the Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act, R.C. Chapter 2744, R.C. 2744.02(B)(1)'s exception to a political subdivision's immunity for the negligent operation of a motor vehicle encompasses an action alleging that the political subdivision negligently hired, trained, or supervised a police officer who was involved in a motor-vehicle accident while responding to an emergency call. The court of appeals held that pursuant to R.C. 2744.02(B)(1), a political subdivision may be liable for its negligent failure to train its police officers in high-speed pursuits.

         {¶ 2} Because the language of R.C. 2744.02(B)(1) is plain and unambiguous, it must be applied, not interpreted. Sears v. Weimer, 143 Ohio St. 312, 55 N.E.2d 413 (1944), paragraph five of the syllabus. R.C. 2744.02(B)(1) allows political subdivisions to be held liable for an employee's negligent operation of a motor vehicle; it does not, however, allow a political subdivision to be held liable for consequences arising from an employee's training or the supervision of that employee in operating the motor vehicle.

         {¶ 3} Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         R.C. 2744.02(B)

         {¶ 4} R.C. 2744.02(B) is at the center of this case. Generally, pursuant to R.C. 2744.02(A), a political subdivision is not liable for damages when an injury has been "caused by any act or omission of the political subdivision or an employee of the political subdivision in connection with a governmental or proprietary function." R.C. 2744.02(B) provides exceptions to that general immunity. R.C. 2744.02(B)(1) establishes that a political subdivision is liable for injuries caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle by its employees who are acting within the scope and authority of their employment. However, under R.C. 2744.02(B)(1)(a), that liability does not attach when the employee is a police officer who is responding to an emergency call-unless the operation of the motor vehicle constitutes willful or wanton misconduct. The statute reads:

(B) Subject to sections 2744.03 and 2744.05 of the Revised Code, a political subdivision is liable in damages in a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property allegedly caused by an act or omission of the political subdivision or of any of its employees in connection with a governmental or proprietary function, as follows:
(1) Except as otherwise provided in this division, political subdivisions are liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the negligent operation of any motor vehicle by their employees when the employees are engaged within the scope of their employment and authority. The following are full defenses to that liability:
(a) A member of a municipal corporation police department or any other police agency was operating a motor vehicle while responding to an emergency call and the operation of the vehicle did not constitute willful or wanton misconduct * * *.

         Today, we consider whether a political subdivision's training or supervision of a police officer may constitute "operation of the vehicle" for purposes of determining potential liability for an accident caused by the police officer.

         FACTS AND ...


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