Attorney General Dave Yost has filed a “friend of the court brief” with the Ohio Supreme Court regarding a federal lawsuit filed by an employee of the Geauga County Health Department. Rebecca Buddenberg, a “whistleblower” who claims the county retaliated against her for reporting, “…unequal pay practices and potential ethical violations by County Health Commissioner Robert Weisdack,” resigned in May 2017. She filed her lawsuit in March 2018.
Court News Ohio reported, “The health commissioner and the other defendants asked the judge to dismiss the case, claiming that Ohio courts have ruled that lawsuits based on injuries suffered from a criminal act require a conviction before they can proceed. The commissioner notes no one has been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime based on Buddenberg’s claims.”
Yost is not taking sides in the lawsuit, but is concerned that Buddenberg’s request for civil damages based upon criminal acts that have not been adjudicated could complicate the various state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors if the Supreme Court were to agree with the claims of the Geauga County defendants.
The federal judge would not dismiss the case filed by Buddenberg, citing precedent and changes to the law in 2007 when the Legislature created, “…a ‘presumption of civil liability’ when a defendant has been convicted, but the laws didn’t make a criminal conviction a requirement,” in Ohio Revised Code Section 2307.60.
In his amicus curiae (friend of the court brief), Yost asserted, “Under R.C. 2307.60, a plaintiff does not need to wait for a criminal conviction before asserting a claim seeking recovery for injuries caused by a ‘criminal act’.” He additionally wrote, “Under R.C. 2307.60’s plain text, ‘criminal act’ means conduct that violates a criminal prohibition; it does not mean ‘criminal conviction.”
He concluded, “The Court should…hold that R.C. 2307.60 does not require an underlying criminal conviction.”
Oral arguments will begin on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. It can be viewed live at the Ohio Supreme Court’s live stream and on The Ohio Channel. The Ohio Channel also archives the event for future viewing.
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