Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Police Shooting of a Non-Threatening Suspect Following A Car Chase Gives Rise to Viable Civil RIghts Case

Suing the police is a difficult endeavor because the qualified immunity doctrine shields government officials from liability for their exercise of discretion, unless their actions violate clearly established rights. Most civil rights cases against police officers fail for this reason. Moreover, after a trial court decides the qualified immunity question the case is immediately appealable. This means that years can go by before the plaintiff can even begin to engage in discovery on the merits, much less get a trial.

Sometimes though the evidence demonstrates a clear case under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, the applicable civil rights statute. For example, police officers who fire rounds into a suspect's vehicle when the chase ends but who have no reason to believe they are threatened are not going to be entitled to qualified immunity. That's what happened in Thompson v. City of Lebanon, Case No. 14-5711 (6th Cir., July 26, 2016). The police in that case killed the suspect.

Thompson's case merely survived a qualified immunity challenge. It took more than six years from the date of the incident to get a ruling from the court of appeals. The case now goes back to the trial court for further proceedings, assuming the defendants do not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Justice delayed is justice denied. This case is prime example.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Workers' Compensation Retaliation Claim Does Not Require Proof Of A Workplace Injury

Following his termination Michael Onderko sued his former employer, Sierra Lobo, Inc. for workers' compensation retaliatory discharge under Ohio Revised Code 4123.90. The employer argued that Onderko's injury did not happen at work and that it terminated him for his “deceptive” attempt to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court threw out the claim because Onderko failed to prove his injury occurred at work. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the court of appeals' reversal. The law in Ohio is now clear that retaliatory discharge under section 4123.90 does not require a showing that the plaintiff suffered a workplace injury. The court further held that a failure to appeal the denial of a workers’ compensation claim does not preclude a retaliatory discharge claim under section 4123.90.

The decision makes sense. The gravamen of a workers' compensation retaliatory discharge claim is retribution for the filing of a claim. The employee's entitlement to workers' compensation benefits is irrelevant. What matters is the employer's motivation for the discharge. Thus, the employer who decides to terminate an employee because of a workers' compensation filing is liable under section 4123.90, regardless of the employee's entitlement to benefits under the workers' compensation system.

You can read the Ohio Supreme Court's decision here:  Onderko v. Sierra Lobo, Inc., 2016-Ohio-5027 (July 21, 2016).