Fabrey v. McDonald Village Police Dept., 93-731

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation70 Ohio St.3d 351,639 N.E.2d 31
Docket NumberNo. 93-731,93-731
PartiesFABREY et al., Appellants, v. MCDONALD VILLAGE POLICE DEPARTMENT et al., Appellees.
Decision Date28 September 1994

Page 351

70 Ohio St.3d 351
639 N.E.2d 31
FABREY et al., Appellants,
No. 93-731.
Supreme Court of Ohio.
Submitted April 6, 1994.
Decided Sept. 28, 1994.

1. R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) does not violate the guarantees of equal protection of the Ohio or United States Constitutions.

2. R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) does not violate the due process provisions of the Ohio or United States Constitutions.

3. R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) does not violate Section 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

On April 23, 1990, plaintiff-appellant, Robert J. Fabrey, a police officer with the Brookfield Police Department, arrested Aubrey M. Riddle as a result of an altercation at a bar. Upon learning that the Brookfield jail was too crowded to accommodate Riddle, Fabrey contacted the McDonald Village Police Department

Page 352

and learned that the McDonald jail would take Riddle. Upon arriving at the McDonald jail, two McDonald police officers helped Fabrey place Riddle in a holding cell. While Fabrey was still in the office area of the jail, the officers noticed smoke coming from under the cell block door; however, no fire alarm sounded. Fabrey entered the cell block to rescue Riddle, and suffered injuries.

Investigators concluded that Riddle had apparently started the fire by igniting a mattress with a cigarette lighter. The source of the lighter was unknown, but Fabrey alleged that he searched Riddle prior to placing him in the police cruiser.

Fabrey and his wife, appellants, filed suit against the village of McDonald, the McDonald Village Police Department and Police [639 N.E.2d 33] Chief Jerry Tyree, appellees, to recover for his personal injuries and her loss of consortium. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis that they were immune from liability pursuant to R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) and 2744.03(A)(6). The court of appeals affirmed.

The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Richard D. Goldberg, Youngstown, for appellants.

Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs and Frank G. Mazgaj, Akron, and William M. Roux, Warren, for appellees.

MOYER, Chief Justice.

Appellants challenge the constitutionality of R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) 1 under the due process and equal protection provisions of the Ohio and United States Constitutions, and the right to remedy provision of the Ohio Constitution. We conclude that the statute is constitutional and affirm the court of appeals.

Statutes are presumed to be constitutional unless shown beyond a reasonable doubt to violate a constitutional provision. State ex rel. Dickman v. Defenbacher (1955), 164 Ohio St. 142, 57 O.O. 134, 128 N.E.2d 59, paragraph one of the syllabus.

Page 353

Appellants argue that R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) violates the Ohio and federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law. The standard for determining violations of equal protection is essentially the same under state and federal law. Beatty v. Akron City Hosp. (1981), 67 Ohio St.2d 483, 491, 21 O.O.3d 302, 307, 424 N.E.2d 586, 591-592, quoting Kinney v. Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Corp. (1975), 41 Ohio St.2d 120, 70 O.O.2d 206, 322 N.E.2d 880. Where neither a fundamental right nor a suspect class is involved, a legislative classification passes muster if the state can show a rational basis for the unequal treatment of different groups. Id., 67 Ohio St.2d at 492, 21 O.O.3d at 307, 424 N.E.2d at 592. The Supreme Court of the United States has articulated the test thus: "A statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived of to justify it." McGowan v. Maryland (1961), 366 U.S. 420, 426, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 1105, 6 L.Ed.2d 393, 399. The court has alternately stated that in the absence of a suspect class or fundamental right, legislative distinctions are invalid only if they bear no relation to the state's goals and no ground can be conceived to justify them. Clements v. Fashing (1982), 457 U.S. 957, 963, 102 S.Ct. 2836, 2843, 73 L.Ed.2d 508, 515.

R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) involves neither a fundamental right nor a suspect class. No authority of which we are aware has held the right to sue a political subdivision for the negligence of its employees to be a fundamental right. To the contrary, the traditional rule has been the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which historically has negated the right to sue the state without its permission.

Nor does the statute burden a suspect class. The distinction it makes is between negligent acts that occur in public buildings such as courthouses and office buildings, and negligent acts that take place in detention facilities. The basis of the distinction is the location of the victim, not his or her identity. The statute applies evenly across every personal classification that has evinced heightened scrutiny, such as race, national origin, religion, and sex. Prisoners, employees, and other visitors to detention facilities are all treated alike under the statute.

A primary purpose of R.C. Chapter 2744 is to preserve the fiscal resources of [639 N.E.2d 34] political subdivisions. Menefee v. Queen City Metro (1990), 49 Ohio St.3d 27, 29, 550 N.E.2d 181, 182. The Supreme Court of the United States has declared that the preservation of fiscal integrity is a valid state interest. Shapiro v. Thompson (1969), 394 U.S. 618, 633, 89 S.Ct. 1322, 1330, 22 L.Ed.2d 600, 614. We must then consider whether the there is a rational relationship between conserving fiscal integrity and the classification created by the statute.

By their very nature, detention facilities are more dangerous than other types of government buildings. They house people who have committed antisocial and illegal acts. As this case illustrates, those acts do not always cease when the

Page 354

person is in detention. Detainees often create dangers to themselves and to others. The General Assembly has clearly established the policy of the law to be that political subdivisions cannot afford the costs of defending tort suits when incidents occur at these facilities. Our equal protection review does not require us to conclude that the state has chosen the best means of serving a legitimate interest, only that it has chosen a rational one. We hold that there is a rational basis for the unequal treatment here, and that R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) does...

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