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Ohio Supreme Court Requires Dismissal of Claims with Prejudice upon Grant of Governmental Immunity

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By Gregory Brunton and Zachary Pyers

September 24, 2014

In State ex rel. City of Cleveland v. Astrab, 139 Ohio St.3d 445, 2014-Ohio-2380 the Ohio Supreme Court held that defendants entitled to immunity by an appellate court could use a writ of mandamus to require the trial court to dismiss such action with prejudice.  In doing so, the Ohio Supreme Court found that political subdivisions and their employees should not be burdened with litigating a refiled action that should have been dismissed with prejudice.

The underlying action at issue in this case occurred in August of 2009, when the plaintiffs were struck and killed by a stolen car that was being pursued by police. They filed suit against two groups of defendants: (1) the occupants of the car; and, (2) the City and police officers.  The City and its employees denied liability and asserted statutory political subdivision immunity under O.R.C. 2744.  The trial court denied the City and its employee’s immunity under O.R.C. 2744 and the City and its employees filed an appeal.  On appeal, the Eighth Appellate District determined that the City and its employees were entitled to immunity in their official capacity. However, on remand, the trial court made the dismissal based upon immunity without prejudice, and subject to refiling. The City and its employees filed a writ of mandamus action to require the trial judge to enter the dismissal order with prejudice.

The Ohio Supreme Court reviewed this issue, and determined that a writ of mandamus was the appropriate relief. To obtain relief by writ of mandamus, which is extraordinary relief, the parties are required to show a clear legal right to the requested relief, a clear legal duty on the part of the judge to provide it, and the lack of an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.  Further, parties must prove these elements by clear and convincing evidence.  The Ohio Supreme Court held that when applying the writ of mandamus standard, the trial court, pursuant to the law of the case doctrine, was required to follow the decision by the court of appeals granting the City and its employee’s immunity and the City and its employees had a clear legal right to a dismissal with prejudice. 

This decision highlights the implications of the law of the case doctrine for political subdivisions such as cities, villages, and counties, as well as their employees.  A dismissal based on a defendant’s entitlement to statutory political subdivision immunity must be with prejudice.  This prevents dismissed claims from being refiled and helps to provide finality to decisions regarding political subdivision immunity.  If a court fails to issue a dismissal with prejudice, defendants can utilize a writ of mandamus to require judges to provide such a dismissal.

If you would like a copy of this decision or have any questions regarding Governmental Liability, please feel free to contact one of our Governmental/Public Entity Liability Practice Group members.

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel. 

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