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Gilliam v. Vaughn's Auto Repair & Towing

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

December 9, 2019

JAMES GILLIAM Appellee
v.
VAUGHN'S AUTO REPAIR & TOWING Defendant and LORAIN COUNTY SHERIFF Appellant

          APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE OBERLIN MUNICIPAL COURT COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 17CVF00486

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and DANIEL F. PETTICORD, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellant.

          RICHARD RAMSEY, Attorney at Law, for Defendant.

          ANTHONY BAKER, Attorney at Law, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          DONNA J. CARR JUDGE

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellant Lorain County Sheriff ("the Sheriff) appeals the judgment of the Oberlin Municipal Court. This Court reverses and remands the matter for proceedings consistent with this decision.

         I.

         {¶2} This Court summarized the facts of the matter in the prior appeal:

According to [Plaintiff] James Gilliam, following a traffic stop in Lorain County, his vehicle was towed and stored by [Defendant] Vaughn's Auto Repair & Towing [("Vaughn's")]. Over the next few months, he attempted to recover his vehicle, but every time he tried to pay the requested fee, Vaughn's would increase the amount it said he owed. Finally, one day it told him that his vehicle had been sold. Mr. Gilliam filed a complaint against Vaughn's, alleging several causes of action. After discovering that the Sheriff had approved the sale, Mr. Gilliam amended his complaint to add claims against the Sheriff. Specifically, Mr. Gilliam alleged that the Sheriff had failed to provide him the notice required by statute that his vehicle was going to be sold.
After answering the amended complaint, the Sheriff moved for summary judgment, alleging that it was immune from liability. The municipal court denied its motion because it determined that some of the documents the Sheriff had submitted were not properly incorporated into an affidavit. It gave the Sheriff 14 days to supplement the record. After the Sheriff submitted a supplemental brief, the municipal court again denied its motion for summary judgment, concluding that it was not immune because it had not followed the statutory procedure for disposal of the vehicle.

Gilliam v. Vaughn's Auto Repair & Towing, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 18CA011340, 2019-Ohio-1392, ¶ 2-3.

         {¶3} The Sheriff appealed and this Court reversed the judgment of the trial court. See id. at ¶ 1, 3. In so doing, this Court concluded that it did not "appear that the municipal court conducted the three-tiered analysis for political subdivision immunity." Id. at ¶ 7. We noted that the trial court "did not analyze whether the exceptions to immunity under Section 2744.02(B) or the statutory defenses to liability under Section 2744.03(A) applied." Id. In conclusion, we determined that a remand was warranted because, even "[t]hough the municipal court may have worked through the three-tier immunity analysis under Sections 2744.02 and 2744.03, we can[not] determine from the judgment entry its conclusions in that regard." Id. at ¶ 8.

         {¶4} Upon remand, the trial court again issued an entry denying the Sheriffs motion for summary judgment. The trial court, albeit reluctantly, conducted the analysis ordered by this Court in the prior appeal and concluded that the Sheriff "is a political subdivision immune from tort liability under R.C. 2744.01(F)[, ]" that "none of the exceptions in R.C. 2744.02(B) appl[ied, ]" and that it was therefore not necessary for it to make a finding under R.C. 2744.03(A). Notwithstanding the foregoing, inexplicably, the trial court stated that, "[r]egardless of the court's conclusions in the three tier analysis the court finds that the Lorain County Sheriff under the unique facts and circumstances of this case is not as a matter of law immune from liability." In concluding that genuine issues of material fact remained and the Sheriff was therefore not entitled to the benefit of immunity, the trial court appears to have primarily relied upon ...


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