Department Not ‘Immune’ From Detective’s Lawsuit

Under Ohio law, public bodies are generally entitled to immunity from liability for “intentional torts.” However, there is an exception to the immunity rule if the intentional tort occurs during the course and scope of employment.

These principles were applied in a case involving former Detective Michael George, who worked for the Village of Newburgh Heights Police Department. When George was terminated after more than ten years of service, he filed a lawsuit claiming damages under Ohio’s Whistleblower Protection Act, retaliation, wrongful termination, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against both the Village and the Police Department.

The question for the Ohio Court of Appeals was whether George’s claims arose out of his employment with the Village. The Court found that they did, and that the Village was not shielded by immunity from potential liability to George.

The Court remarked that “between September 2009 and July 2010, when George was laid off by the Village, he was conducting a number of internal investigations. The investigations included, but were not limited to, police brutality, use of excessive force, perjured search warrants, sexual contact with a 17-year-old girl by a police officer, and an illicit sexual relationship in the Police Department’s unmarked police vehicle. In addition, during the same period, George was investigating suspected cocaine use by the Village’s fire chief, clerk treasurer, and the service director. Specifically, Detective George was investigating an eyewitness account of cocaine use by the aforementioned three individuals at a softball party at the Crankshaft Tavern.

“George reported the findings of the internal investigation to the police chief, who was terminally ill and unable to provide much support. In May 2010, Detective George sought the outside assistance of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Detective George’s decision to seek outside assistance with his internal investigation became widely known within the Police Department and the Village. Roughly 30 days after George sought outside assistance with his internal investigation, the Village’s City Council voted to lay him off.”

The Court found that “the totality of the circumstances indicates that Detective George’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress flowed from the actions taken by the Village in response to the internal investigation he was conducting. Consequently, we conclude that the Village cannot raise immunity as a defense to the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

George v. Village of Newburgh Hts., 2012 WL 1649815 (Ohio App. 8 Dist. 2012).