Tye v. Beausay

Decision Date17 July 2020
Docket NumberNo. 28383,28383
Citation2020 Ohio 3746,156 N.E.3d 331
Parties Matthew TYE, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants v. T. Jeffrey BEAUSAY, et al., Defendants-Appellees
CourtOhio Court of Appeals
OPINION

WELBAUM, J.

{¶ 1} Plaintiffs-Appellants, Matthew Tye and Jodi-Anne Phares as guardian for Joshua Tye (collectively, "Appellants"), appeal from a summary judgment rendered in favor of Defendants-Appellees, T. Jeffrey Beausay and the Donahey Law Firm (collectively, "Appellees"). In support of their appeal in this legal malpractice action, Appellants claim that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the issues of proximate cause and respondeat superior.

{¶ 2} For the reasons discussed more fully below, we conclude that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on Matthew Tye's claim, because Matthew admitted that even if he had been properly informed, he would still have signed a release of his claims in the underlying medical malpractice action. However, the court did err in granting summary judgment against Phares, who represented the interests of Joshua Tye, a physically and intellectually disabled person. While Phares stated, in response to a speculative question, that she did not know what she would have done if properly informed of Joshua's claim, the record contained substantial evidence indicating that she would not have agreed to waive his claim. Therefore, a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Beausay's actions were the proximate cause of any harm to Joshua, and the court erred in granting summary judgment on Joshua's claim.

{¶ 3} We further conclude that the trial court did not err in rendering summary judgment in favor of the Donahey Law Firm based on respondeat superior. There was no evidence that the law firm controlled the actions of the attorney who obtained releases from Matthew and Joshua Tye without properly notifying them about their claims. The record also contains no evidence of apparent authority. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

{¶ 4} This is the second time this case has been before us. The first appeal involved a summary judgment granted on whether an attorney-client relationship existed between the Tye brothers and Beausay. See Tye v. Beausay , 2017-Ohio-7943, 98 N.E.3d 970 (2d Dist.) (" Tye I "). The facts set forth in that case were as follows:

The present litigation stems from a 2010 medical-malpractice lawsuit filed by the Tyes' father, Scott Tye, and their stepmother, Barbara Tye. Scott and Barbara Tye were represented by attorney Beausay and the Donahey Law Firm in the lawsuit, which alleged negligence by various doctors in failing to diagnose and treat a spinal epidural abscess that resulted in Scott Tye's paralysis. Matthew and Joshua, Scott Tye's adult sons, without their knowledge or assent, were also named by Beausay as plaintiffs in the medical-malpractice lawsuit where one or more claims were asserted on their behalf. As part of a settlement process, Beausay mediated and dismissed the lawsuit, which included the claims he asserted on behalf of the Tye brothers, without ever contacting or advising them in any way. Prior to distribution of the settlement proceeds, Scott Tye informed his sons that they were required to sign releases. At the time, the Tye brothers were young adults, and they did not live with Scott and Barbara. The Tye brothers signed the releases at their father's request. The releases precluded them from pursuing any present or future claims against the medical-malpractice defendants related to their father's medical treatment and care. Despite the settlement, the Tye brothers never received any of the compensation, which appears to have gone to their father, as none of it was segregated or earmarked for them. The Tye brothers did not discover that Beausay had involved them in the case until after their father's death, which occurred just weeks after the final claims were dismissed with prejudice and the last releases were signed. Appellants alleged the death was related to the medical care their father received.
Upon discovering that Beausay had involved them in the medical-malpractice case without their knowledge, the Tye brothers filed the present lawsuit against Beausay and the Donahey Law Firm. In an amended complaint, they asserted a legal-malpractice claim as well as alternative claims for bad faith, conversion, malicious conduct, privity, estoppel, third-party beneficiaries, and respondeat superior. The trial court subsequently sustained in part and overruled in part a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion filed by Beausay and his law firm. It found that the Tye brothers' complaint sufficiently stated a claim for legal malpractice based on the existence of an attorney-client relationship with Beausay. Therefore, the trial court refused to dismiss the legal-malpractice claim. It concluded, however, that the alternative claims, regardless of how they were pled, were in substance legal-malpractice claims and were subsumed by that claim. Consequently, the trial court sustained the motion to dismiss with regard to the seven alternative claims.
Beausay and the law firm later moved for summary judgment on the remaining legal-malpractice claim. The grounds for the motion were (1) that no attorney-client relationship existed between the Tye brothers and Beausay and (2) that the Tye brothers did not sustain any harm proximately caused by anything Beausay did. The Tye brothers opposed the motion, arguing (1) that a "malice" substitute for an attorney-client relationship existed and (2) that, at a minimum, genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Beausay's actions had caused them harm.
In a December 22, 2016 ruling, the trial court sustained the summary-judgment motion. It concluded that no attorney-client relationship existed between the Tye brothers and Beausay. It also concluded that the "malice" substitute for an attorney-client relationship did not apply.

Tye I , 2017-Ohio-7943, 98 N.E.3d 970, at ¶ 3-6.

{¶ 5} On appeal, we concluded that there was no express or implied attorney-client relationship. Id. at ¶ 10. We did reverse the summary judgment decision, however, based on a malice substitute for an attorney-client relationship. In this regard, we said that "[e]ven if we did not conclude that filing, pursuing, mediating, settling and dismissing a lawsuit is collectively sufficient extra-legal activity to constitute an exception to the attorney-client relationship, viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the Tye brothers, we find a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Beausay acted with ‘malice’ (i.e., extra-legal activity) toward them * * *." Id. at ¶ 18, citing Omega Riggers & Erectors, Inc. v. Koverman , 2016-Ohio-2961, 65 N.E.3d 210 (2d Dist.).

{¶ 6} We also concluded that genuine issues of material fact existed concerning whether the Tyes had suffered harm. We noted that:

Although Beausay asserts that the Tye brothers suffered no harm as a result of his actions, we believe there is a genuine issue that a trier of fact reasonably might conclude otherwise. The Tye brothers' claims presumably had some settlement value. Otherwise, there would be no purpose to include them in the lawsuit and the medical-malpractice defendants would not have required their signatures on the releases. Beausay certainly had no duty to preserve the Tye brothers' claims by bringing them into the lawsuit without their knowledge. Having elected to do so, however, a trier of fact reasonably could find that he then consciously disregarded their rights as unknowing plaintiffs in the lawsuit by pursuing a negotiated release-and-settlement process that largely ignored them (other than obtaining their signatures on unexplained releases) and provided them nothing, thereby resulting in substantial financial harm. On the other hand, a trier of fact also potentially might agree with Beausay and the Donahey Law Firm and conclude that the Tye brothers would have consented to the settlement anyway and suffered no harm. For summary-judgment purposes, however, we must construe the facts and all reasonable inferences in favor of the Tye brothers.

(Footnote omitted.) Id. at ¶ 21.

{¶ 7} After we reversed the judgment and remanded the case, a trial was ultimately set for April 15, 2019. In the meantime, however, Appellees filed a motion for summary judgment on January 25, 2019, contending that the Tyes did not suffer a compensable loss based on the medical malpractice. The same day, the Donahey Law Firm also filed a motion for summary judgment based on the fact that it could not be held liable under respondeat superior because Beausay was not an employee of the firm.

{¶ 8} On February 1, 2019, Appellees filed a third summary judgment motion, contending that Phares could not prove that any harm was caused to Joshua Tye. According to this motion, Joshua had been incompetent his entire life due to a developmental delay and cerebral palsy. Motion for Summary Judgment on Joshua Tye's Claims, p. 3-4. Consequently, because Joshua had never been competent, the release of claims he signed was invalid, and he had given up nothing by signing it. Id. at p. 7-9.

{¶ 9} This was followed by yet another summary judgment motion by Appellees on February 15, 2019. The motion was based on the contention that the Tyes could not prove that they would have received any of the money from their father's settlement, and that, therefore, no proximate cause existed. Motion for Summary Judgment on Proximate Cause, p. 4-5.

{¶ 10} On February 25. 2019, Appellants filed two responses to the pending summary judgment motions. In one memorandum, Appellants argued that the motion for summary judgment on failure to prove consortium was simply an attempt to circumvent the trial court's previous decision that the...

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