On July 29, 2020, the Supreme Court of Ohio decided Buddenberg v. Weisdack et al., 2020-Ohio-3832, an important case interpreting a provision of the Ohio Revised Code which imparts civil liability on persons who engaged in “criminal acts.”
Before Buddenberg, it was not clear whether a party could bring a civil lawsuit against a person for a “criminal act” if that person has not been convicted in a criminal proceeding. After Buddenberg, it is clear that an underlying criminal conviction is not a necessary predicate to bring a civil lawsuit against someone for a “criminal act” under R.C. § 2307.60.
Buddenberg arises out of a federal lawsuit alleging certain government officials violated anti-discrimination laws and committed “criminal acts,” including violating the plaintiff’s civil rights, which the plaintiff claimed exposed the defendants to civil liability under R.C. § 2307.60. Significantly, no defendants had been convicted of a crime. To properly adjudicate the claims predicated on R.C. § 2307.60, the federal court certified two questions for the Supreme Court of Ohio for determination:
- Does [R.C.] 2307.60’s creation of a civil cause of action for injuries based on a “criminal act” require an underlying criminal conviction?
- Is a criminal conviction a condition precedent to a civil claim pursuant to [R.C.] 2921.03?
Buddenberg holds that the answer to both questions is no. The Court reasoned that a plain reading of R.C. Section 2307.06 does not require proof of an underlying conviction. Rather, the statute demands only that a victim’s injury to person or property be caused by a “criminal act” of another. The Court soundly rejected the argument that the General Assembly’s use of the term “criminal act” equates to a requirement that a conviction be proven. The Court applied a similar rationale in reaching the conclusion that a criminal conviction is not a condition precedent to a victim pursuing a claim for a violation of Ohio’s criminal intimidation statute found at R.C. Section 2921.03.
This decision will have important implications for public employees and officials. If you have questions regarding Buddenberg, the Public Law attorneys at Walter | Haverfield LLP are available to answer your questions.
Wesley M. Kretch is an attorney with Walter | Haverfield’s public law group. He has extensive experience representing public entities at trial and appellate levels in state and federal court. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 216.658.6216.
Benjamin Grant Chojnacki is a partner with Walter | Haverfield’s public law group who counsels municipalities, public entities and private corporations on all aspects of public law. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 216.619.7850.