Johnson v. BP Chemicals, Inc., 97-2723

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation707 N.E.2d 1107,85 Ohio St.3d 298
PartiesJOHNSON, Appellee and Cross-Appellant, v. BP CHEMICALS, INC., Appellant and Cross-Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 97-2723,97-2723
Decision Date14 April 1999

Page 298

85 Ohio St.3d 298
707 N.E.2d 1107
JOHNSON, Appellee and Cross-Appellant,
BP CHEMICALS, INC., Appellant and Cross-Appellee.
No. 97-2723.
Supreme Court of Ohio.
Submitted Dec. 15, 1998.
Decided April 14, 1999.

R.C. 2745.01 is unconstitutional in its entirety. (brady v. safety-kleen corp. [1991], 61 ohio st.3d 624, 576 N.E.2d 722, approved and followed.)

[707 N.E.2d 1108] On January 17, 1997, Norman A. Johnson, appellee and cross-appellant, filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allen County, naming as defendant BP Chemicals, Inc. ("BP"), appellant and cross-appellee herein. In the complaint, Johnson alleged that during the course of his employment with BP, he "suffered burn injuries to his lower extremities, face, right arm, and other parts of his body," and that his injuries were a direct and proximate result of BP's "intentionally tortious conduct." Johnson also sought recovery against BP for products liability. Johnson's products liability claims were predicated on the allegation that BP acted "in its dual capacity as the manufacturer of machinery on which Plaintiff sustained injury at the premises."

With respect to his intentional tort claim, Johnson alleged initially that R.C. 2745.01, the "employment intentional tort" statute, was unconstitutional. With this assertion as a backdrop, Johnson then based his common-law intentional tort claim upon the following allegations 1:

"(1) Defendant knew of the existence of the dangerousness of a procedure or condition at the premises which arose in the cleaning of prilling tower spray heads (hereinafter 'product') with steam pressure within its business operation;

"(2) From past experience, Defendant knew that since critical welds had failed in the product and since inspection of the product for such foreseeable failures was knowingly inadequate, bodily injury would occur;

"(3) Defendant knew that if Plaintiff was subjected by his employment as the prill B operator with Defendant to such dangerous procedure or condition, harm to Plaintiff would be a substantial certainty and not just a high risk; and

"(4) Under such circumstances and with such knowledge, Defendant acted to require Plaintiff to continue to perform the dangerous task, to wit, cleaning the product with steam pressure."

On February 24, 1997, BP filed a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss the complaint. In its memorandum in support of the motion, BP argued that R.C. 2745.01 was a valid exercise of the General Assembly's police powers and that Johnson's intentional tort claim should be dismissed because he failed to allege facts sufficient to establish the existence of an intentional tort in accordance with

Page 300

the statutory standards set forth in R.C. 2745.01. BP also asserted that Johnson's products liability claims were barred under Ohio law.

Johnson responded to BP's motion to dismiss, and he also filed two motions for partial summary judgment. In his first motion for summary judgment, Johnson reasserted that R.C. 2745.01 was unconstitutional. In his second motion, Johnson set forth reasons why he should be able to proceed with his products liability claims against BP.

On April 28, 1997, the trial court granted BP's motion to dismiss and denied Johnson's summary judgment motions. The court concluded that R.C. 2745.01 was constitutional in all respects, that R.C. 2745.01 superseded common-law intentional tort claims brought by employees against their employers, and [707 N.E.2d 1109] that, in this case, specific facts were not alleged sufficient to establish that BP "deliberately and intentionally" injured Johnson. The trial court further determined that Johnson failed to state a viable claim for products liability under the dual capacity doctrine.

On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court in part and affirmed it in part, and remanded the cause for further proceedings. The court of appeals held that R.C. 2745.01 was unconstitutional and that Johnson had properly set forth a claim for common-law intentional tort sufficient to survive a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss. The court of appeals, however, agreed with the trial court that Johnson could not maintain a products liability action. Based on the holdings of the court of appeals, BP filed an appeal and Johnson filed a cross-appeal.

The cause is now before this court upon the allowance of a discretionary appeal and cross-appeal.

Ray & Alton, L.L.P., and Frank A. Ray, Columbus; Janice A. Quatman & Associates and Janice A. Quatman, Lima, for appellee and cross-appellant.

Thompson, Hine & Flory, L.L.P., William C. Wilkinson, Scott A. King and Christine M. Haaker, Cleveland, for appellant and cross-appellee.

Manley, Burke, Lipton & Cook and Andrew S. Lipton, Cincinnati, in support of appellee and cross-appellant, for amicus curiae, Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers.

Stewart Jaffy & Associates Co., L.P.A., Stewart R. Jaffy and Marc J. Jaffy, Columbus, in support of appellee and cross-appellant, for amicus curiae, Ohio AFL-CIO.

Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, Jeffery D. Ubersax and Dennis A. Devine, Cleveland, in support of appellant, for amicus curiae, Cold Metal Products, Inc.

Page 301

Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General, Arthur J. Marziale, Jr., and Kimberly L. Charles, Assistant Attorneys General, in support of appellant, for amicus curiae, Ohio Attorney General.

Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, L.L.P., Robert A. Minor and Robin R. Obetz, Columbus, in support of appellant and cross-appellee, for amici curiae, Ohio Manufacturers' Association and Ohio Self-Insurers' Association.

Garvin & Hickey, L.L.C., and Preston J. Garvin, Dublin, in support of appellant and cross-appellee, for amicus curiae, Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Bricker & Eckler, L.L.P., Charles D. Smith and Bobbie S. Sprader, Cleveland, in support of appellant, for amici curiae, Ohio Farm Bureau and National Federation of Independent Business, Ohio Chapter.

DOUGLAS, Justice.

The central question for our consideration is whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that R.C. 2745.01 is unconstitutional. Johnson has also filed a cross-appeal, contending that the trial court and court of appeals erred in dismissing his products liability claims.


R.C. 2745.01

R.C. 2745.01 became effective November 1, 1995. See Am.H.B. No. 103, 146 Ohio Laws, Part I, 756, 760. 2 This legislation [707 N.E.2d 1110] represents yet another attempt by

Page 302

the General Assembly to govern when and under what circumstances an intentional tort claim may be commenced and maintained by an employee against his or her employer. 3 Notably, in Section 3 of Am.H.B. No. 103, the General Assembly has declared its intent to supersede the effects of several decisions of

Page 303

this court and to establish statutory standards, different from the common law, with respect to intentional torts in the workplace. 4

[707 N.E.2d 1111] BP and its supporting amici curiae contend that R.C. 2745.01 is constitutional in all respects. To that end, BP and its supporting amici curiae argue that the General Assembly has the authority under its police powers to enact legislation that establishes standards different from the common law, that other jurisdictions have upheld legislation similar to R.C. 2745.01, and that R.C. 2745.01 represents a reasonable balance between employee and employer interests.

We do not dispute the long-standing principle that the General Assembly has the authority, within constitutional limitations, to change the common law by legislation. See Thompson v. Ford (1955), 164 Ohio St. 74, 79, 57 O.O. 96, 99, 128 N.E.2d 111, 115. We are also mindful of the fundamental precepts that all legislative enactments enjoy a strong presumption of constitutionality, Arnold v. Cleveland (1993), 67 Ohio St.3d 35, 38, 616 N.E.2d 163, 166, and that the role of a court when considering the constitutionality of an Act is not to judge the wisdom of the legislation, Austintown Twp. Bd. of Trustees v. Tracy (1996), 76 Ohio St.3d 353, 356, 667 N.E.2d 1174, 1176. However, these general principles are not absolute. Thus, when the validity of a statute is challenged on constitutional grounds, it is our duty to determine the meaning and effect of the Constitution vis-a-vis the challenged legislation. State ex rel. Bishop v. Mt. Orab Village School Dist. Bd. of Edn. (1942), 139 Ohio St. 427, 438, 22 O.O. 494, 498, 40 N.E.2d 913, 919. Moreover, if the legislation at issue exceeds the limits of legislative power, we must protect the rights of the citizens effected by the law and, if appropriate, declare the legislation invalid.

In response to our holdings in Blankenship v. Cincinnati Milacron Chemicals, Inc. (1982), 69 Ohio St.2d 608, 23 O.O.3d 504, 433 N.E.2d 572, and Jones v. VIP Dev. Co. (1984), 15 Ohio St.3d 90, 15 OBR 246, 472 N.E.2d 1046, the General

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Assembly enacted former R.C. 4121.80 (Am.Sub.S.B. No. 307, 141 Ohio Laws, Part I, 733-737). See Brady v. Safety-Kleen Corp. (1991), 61 Ohio St.3d 624, 631, 576 N.E.2d 722, 727, citing Kunkler v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (1988), 36 Ohio St.3d 135, 136-137, 522 N.E.2d 477, 479. In Brady, the court invalidated former R.C. 4121.80 in its entirety, and, in doing so, we thought that we had made it abundantly clear that any statute created to provide employers with immunity from liability for their intentional tortious conduct cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. See, also, State ex rel. Ohio AFL-CIO v. Voinovich (1994), 69 Ohio St.3d 225, 230, 631 N.E.2d 582, 587. 5 Notwithstanding, the General Assembly has enacted R.C. 2745.01, and, again, seeks to cloak employers with immunity. In this regard, we can only assume that the General Assembly has either failed to grasp the import of our holdings in Brady or that the General Assembly has simply elected to willfully disregard that decision. In any event, we will state again our holdings in Brady and hopefully put...

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