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Court Rules City Not Immune From Liability For Injury Suffered by Patron at Indoor Municipal Swimming Pool

The Supreme Court ruled that a city is not immune from civil liability for injuries suffered by a patron while he or she is in or on the grounds of an indoor municipal swimming pool.

The Supreme Court ruled that a city is not immune from civil liability for injuries suffered by a patron while he or she is in or on the grounds of an indoor municipal swimming pool.

The Supreme Court ruled that a city is not immune from civil liability for injuries suffered by a patron while he or she is in or on the grounds of an indoor municipal swimming pool.

The Supreme Court ruled that a city is not immune from civil liability for injuries suffered by a patron while he or she is in or on the grounds of an indoor municipal swimming pool.

In a 7-0 decision announced today, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the state law granting  general immunity from civil lawsuits to political subdivisions does not bar a civil action against a city that is based on injuries that occurred in or on the grounds of an indoor municipal swimming pool.

The case involved a civil suit filed by the parents of,  M.H., a minor who suffered a broken knee while using a diving board at an indoor pool operated by the City of Cuyahoga Falls.  In their complaint, M.H. and his parents alleged that the city had been negligent in maintaining the diving board.

Cuyahoga Falls moved for summary judgment, claiming that it was immune from civil liability for the boy’s injury under Ohio’s political subdivision immunity statute, R.C. Chapter 2744.  It its pleadings, the city cited the Supreme Court of Ohio’s lead opinion in Cater v. Cleveland (1998), which held in part that an exception to political subdivision immunity set forth in R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) for injuries incurred in a “government building” did not apply to an indoor swimming pool because a swimming pool is a recreational facility and thus not similar to an “office building or courthouse.”

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the city.

The plaintiffs appealed. On review, the Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed the award of summary judgment in favor of the city and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. In its opinion, the Ninth District reasoned that because the pool was in “a building used in connection with the performance of a governmental function,” the exception to political-subdivision tort immunity in R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) applied, and therefore M.H. and his parents were not barred from pursuing a civil action against the city.

Cuyahoga Falls sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the Ninth District’s ruling.

Writing for the court, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer noted that there was no dispute between the parties that Cuyahoga Falls is a political subdivision with general immunity from civil suits, that M.H.’s injury occurred while he was in or on the grounds of  the city’s indoor pool, or that in operating and maintaining the swimming pool the city was performing a  “governmental function.”

Justice Pfeifer wrote: “This case seems to fit clearly within the exception under R.C. 2744.02(B)(4).  The complaint alleged that the city was negligent in the care or control of its pool or diving board and that the negligence caused the injury suffered by M.H.  The pool is within a building that is ‘used in connection with the performance of a governmental function.’  The only impediment that we see to a resolution based solely on the plain language of the statute is language found in Cater.”

Justice Pfeifer noted that the lead opinion in Cater, which was not joined by any other member of the court, “expressed concern that imposing liability on a political subdivision for injuries at an indoor swimming pool created an artificial distinction between indoor pools and outdoor pools, for which there would be no liability, because the injury had not occurred in a building. ... We are not persuaded that this language has ongoing relevance.  Instead, we conclude that the plain language of the statute is sufficient to guide us in reaching a decision.”

“It is clear that the operation of a pool is a government function. In this case, it is equally clear that the injury ‘occur[ed] within or on the grounds of a building that was used in connection with the performance of a governmental function.’  Accordingly, we conclude that the exception in R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) applies.” 

“Based on our conclusion that the exception to immunity contained in R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) is applicable, Cuyahoga Falls is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its motion for summary judgment. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

2011-1588. M.H. v. Cuyahoga Falls, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-5336.
Summit App. No. 25582, 2011-Ohio-3795.  Judgment affirmed and cause remanded.
O’Connor, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O’Donnell, Lanzinger, Cupp, and McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2012/2012-Ohio-5336.pdf

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