Smathers v. Glass, Slip Op. No. 2022-Ohio-4594 (Dec. 22, 2022)

Ohio Supreme Court addresses stringent standard to defeat a question-of-fact argument.

The Ohio Supreme Court has determined that it is not a court’s role to weigh evidence to determine issues that may otherwise present as a question of fact.  In Smathers, the plaintiff sued Perry County Children’s Services and its caseworkers, alleging her minor granddaughter died through the neglect of the biological mother as a result of the caseworkers’ reckless or wanton conduct.  The caseworkers filed summary judgment.  

Routinely in sovereign immunity cases, courts are asked to determine that undisputed evidence is so one-sided that the party claiming immunity should prevail as a matter of law.  Though summary judgment was granted by the trial and appellate court, the Supreme Court found that the courts impermissibly weighed facts and resolved ambiguities in deposition testimony.  In so holding, the Supreme Court found that “determining whether issues of disputed fact exist is different from making findings of facts”; however, “any inferences regarding the evidence, including the resolution of ambiguities or inconsistencies, must be made in a manner that favors the nonmoving party.” Despite allegations by the caseworkers that they believed the child was safe in her father’s custody after her discharge from the hospital, the Supreme Court found that there was information in the record for the plaintiff to argue that such belief and their corresponding omissions were reckless or wanton, sufficient to deny immunity at summary judgment.  The decision in this case parallels Maternal Grandmother v. Hamilton Cty. Dept. of Job & Family Services, 167 Ohio St.3d 390, 2021-Ohio-4096 (Nov. 23, 2021), with a similar holding as to immunity defenses raised in a motion to dismiss.

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