Intentional Tort Statute Constitutional
Kaminski v. Metal & Wire Prods. Co. (3/23/10), 125 Ohio St.3d 250, 2010-Ohio-1027.
Stetter v. R.J. Corman Derailment Servs., L.L.C (3/23/10), 125 Ohio St.3d 280, 2010-Ohio-1029.
Issue: Does Ohio’s intentional tort statute (R.C. §2745.01) violate the Ohio Constitution?
Background: The Supreme Court decided two cases challenging the constitutionality of R.C. §2745.01, Ohio’s intentional tort statute.
Kaminsky involved an intentional tort suit which was filed in the Ohio Court of Common Pleas. The Seventh District Court of Appeals had found that R.C. §2745.01 unconstitutional because it violated Article II, Section 34 and Article II, Section 35 of the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio Supreme Court accepted an appeal from that decision.
Stetter was filed in the federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. That court certified eight questions to the Ohio Supreme Court involving the constitutionality of R.C. § 2745.01. The Ohio Supreme Court accepted the certified questions for review. The certified questions asked whether the intentional tort statute violated the constitution because it:
- violated the right to trial by jury;
- violated the right to a remedy;
- violated the right to an open court;
- violated due process;
- violated equal protection;
- violated separation of powers; or
- conflicted with the legislature’s authority under Article II, Section 34 and Article II, Section 35 of the Ohio Constitution.
The eighth question asked whether R.C. §2745.01 eliminated the common law employer intentional tort action.
Decision: Supreme Court finds R.C. §2745.01 constitutional.
In an earlier decision, Johnson v. BP Chems., Inc. (1999), 85 Ohio St.3d 298, the Supreme Court found a similar intentional tort statute unconstitutional because it violated Art. II, Sec. 34 and 35.
The legislature passed R.C. §2745.01 in response to Johnson. As the Court recognizes, the legislature’s purpose in R.C. §2745.01 is to “significantly restrict actions for employer intentional torts.”
The Court indicates that Art. II, Sec. 34 and 35 provide grants of power to the legislature, but do not limit the legislature’s authority:
Decisions of this court after Johnson have therefore conclusively established that Section 34, Article II is not a limitation on the General Assembly’s authority to legislate.
Johnson and an earlier Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Safety-Kleen Corp. (1991), 61 Ohio St.3d 624, had recognized that an attempt to limit the employer intentional tort violated Art. II, Sec. 34 because the intentional tort promotes workplace safety. Those cases found that limiting the intentional tort violates Art. II, Sec. 34 because that constitutional provision only gives the legislature the authority to pass acts “providing for the comfort, health, safety and general welfare” of employees.
The Court does not overrule Johnson, but indicates that Johnson does not apply because it considered a different statutory provision. The Court indicates that because more recent decisions have found Art. II, Sec. 34 to provide no limitation on the legislature’s authority, Johnson does not apply.
Although the Court states that it does not overrule Johnson, it rejects Johnson’s reasoning and result. As the concurring opinion (which believes Johnson should be overruled) states, the limitation of Johnson is an “artificial” limitation.
The dissenting opinion properly points out,
In all pertinent regards, the statute this court addresses today is the same as the one it addressed in Johnson. Only the result in this case is different.
* * *
The common law does, necessarily, evolve and change. The common law, however, should not be ignored; its repudiation should at least be acknowledged. Without overturning years of contrary precedent, this court anoints the General Assembly’s abolition of workplace intentional torts.
The result of this decision (and Stetter) is that intentional tort cases are considered under statutory, rather than common law, principals. This is clear from the discussion of the facts in Kaminski where the Court indicates
Because R.C. §2745.01 is constitutional, the standards contained in the statute govern employer intentional tort actions, and the statutory standards apply rather than the common-law standards.
Stetter involves eight certified questions. The Kaminski decision resolved the seventh certified question (involving Oh. Const. Art. II, Sec. 34 and 35).
In Stetter, the Court initially considers the eighth question: whether R.C. §2745.01 eliminates the common law employer intentional tort. The Court recognizes that the statute “significantly curtail[s]” the employment intentional tort, but states that this does not “abolish” the tort.
The Court reviews the other constitutional challenges in Stetter and rejects them, upholding the constitutionality of R.C. §2745.01.
Editor’s Comment: As noted by the dissenting opinion in Stetter, although the majority opinion states that “R.C. §2745.01 . . . does not eliminate the common-law cause of action for an employer intentional tort”, given the result of these cases “what’s left”?
Kaminsky demonstrates that the answer to that question is “not much.” The Court of Appeals in Kaminsky had considered the facts of that case and found that the “evidence shows that [the employer], through its supervisors, knew of the unsafe method used to balance the unsteady coils” which fell on Kaminsky. As the Court of Appeals found, the facts of Kaminsky satisfied the common law intentional tort definition. However, the Supreme Court in applying the statutory definition finds that no intentional tort occurred.