York v. Ohio State Highway Patrol, No. 90-1264

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtALICE ROBIE RESNICK; MOYER; HOLMES; MOYER; HOLMES
Citation573 N.E.2d 1063,60 Ohio St.3d 143
PartiesYORK, Administratrix, Appellee, v. OHIO STATE HIGHWAY PATROL, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 90-1264
Decision Date12 June 1991

Page 143

60 Ohio St.3d 143
573 N.E.2d 1063
YORK, Administratrix, Appellee,
v.
OHIO STATE HIGHWAY PATROL, Appellant.
No. 90-1264.
Supreme Court of Ohio.
Submitted March 19, 1991.
Decided June 12, 1991.

[573 N.E.2d 1064] On August 5, 1988, Deborah York, Administratrix of the Estate of Bruce E. York, appellee, filed a complaint with the Court of Claims against the appellant, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and several of its patrolmen. The complaint alleged that the officers negligently, needlessly, willfully, and maliciously pursued the appellee's decedent, used excessive force to engage in a high speed chase with the decedent, and ultimately caused him to lose control of his vehicle. The complaint further avers that as a direct and proximate result of these acts, the decedent sustained grave injuries and died.

Subsequently, the appellant moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Civ.R. 12(B)(6). The court granted the motion and the appellee appealed the order. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the appellee had alleged facts sufficient to sustain a claim for relief. The

Page 144

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

Miller, Stillman & Bartel, Willard E. Bartel, Cleveland, and Charles E. Wagner, Gates Mills, for appellee.

Lee I. Fisher, Atty. Gen., William J. McDonald and simon B. Karas, Columbus, for appellant.

ALICE ROBIE RESNICK, Justice.

The first question we must address is whether the State Highway Patrol, as an agency of the state of Ohio, is immune from liability on this claim. R.C. 2744.02 sets the parameters for the liability of political subdivisions for tortious acts committed by their employees. R.C. 2744.02(B)(1) provides that " * * * political subdivisions are liable for injury, death, or loss to persons or property caused by the negligent operation of any motor vehicle by their employees upon the public roads, highways, or streets when the employees are engaged within the scope of their employment and authority." The provision further states that liability does not attach where "[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 motor vehicle did not constitute willful or wanton misconduct * * *." R.C. 2744.02(B)(1)(b).

In other words, if an officer-employee of the State Highway Patrol inflicts injury upon an individual while the officer is operating a motor vehicle during an emergency, and that injury is the result of the officer's negligence, then the agency is immune from liability. However, if the officer operates his motor vehicle in a wanton or willful manner, then immunity does not lie.

In the case at bar, the appellee specifically alleged that the state highway patrolmen pursued the decedent in what amounted to a wanton and willful manner, thereby causing the decedent to sustain fatal injuries. Since R.C. 2744.02 provides no protection for wanton and willful misconduct, the State Highway Patrol will be liable if the appellee can establish this claim at trial. Consequently, appellee's claim is not barred by R.C. 2744.02 and may not be dismissed on this basis.

The second question we must address is whether the appellee's complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(6). In O'Brien v. University Community Tenants Union, Inc. (1975), 42 Ohio St.2d 242, 71 O.O.2d 223, 327 N.E.2d 753, this court set forth the standard for granting a motion to dismiss pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(6). Specifically, we held that in order for a court to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, it must appear " 'beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.' " O'Brien at 245, 71 O.O.2d at 224, 327 N.E.2d at 755, citing Conley v. Gibson (1957), 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101, 2 L.Ed.2d 80. In the recent case of Mitchell v. Lawson Milk Co. (1988), 40 Ohio St.3d 190, 532 N.E.2d 753, we elaborated upon this standard, noting that "[i]n construing [573 N.E.2d 1065] a complaint upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, we must presume that all factual allegations of the complaint are true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Id. at 192, 532 N.E.2d at 756, citing 2A Moore, Federal Practice (1985) 12-63, Paragraph 12.07[2.-5].

This standard for granting a motion to dismiss is in accord with the notice pleading regimen set up by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and incorporated into the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure. Under these rules, a

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plaintiff is not required to prove his or her case at the pleading stage. Very often, the evidence necessary for a plaintiff to prevail is not obtained until the plaintiff is able to discover materials in the defendant's possession. If the plaintiff were required to prove his or her case in the complaint, many valid claims would be dismissed because of the plaintiff's lack of access to relevant evidence. Consequently, as long as there is a set of facts, consistent with the plaintiff's complaint, which would allow the plaintiff to recover, the court may not grant a defendant's motion to dismiss.

In a few carefully circumscribed cases, this court has modified the standard for granting a motion to dismiss by requiring that the plaintiff plead operative facts with particularity. See Mitchell v. Lawson Milk Co., supra (when a plaintiff brings an intentional tort claim against an employer he must plead operative facts with particularity); Byrd v. Faber (1991), 57 Ohio St.3d 56, 565 N.E.2d 584 (when a plaintiff brings a negligent hiring claim against a religious institution, he must plead operative facts with particularity); see, also, Civ.R. 9(B), which states that "[i]n all...

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