Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Eighth District: Family Can Pursue Privacy Invasion Claim Against Cop-Calling Neighbors

A Cuyahoga County judge was too quick to dismiss the invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other claims of a Gates Mills family who alleged their neighbors called the police on them more than 85 times, and climbed on a backyard swing set to video them, an Ohio appeals court ruled.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a trial court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit filed by William, Laurie, and Jonathan Mangelluzzi against Thomas and Katie Morley. The families have been neighbors since 2010.

In December 2013, the Mangelluzzis filed the complaint against the Morleys alleging they made numerous false and harassing complaints to police and various other officials during the construction of their home, which resulted in additional costs; that the Morleys invaded their privacy by videotaping and photographing them in their backyard; and have made false and derogatory statements about them, which has interfered with their legitimate use of their property and caused severe emotional distress that resulted in medical treatment.

In their suit, the Mangelluzzis identified 85 to 90 calls made by the Morleys to the police and 40 to 50 complaints to the city building inspector, as well as complaints to the Ohio EPA, the county board of health and the Gates Mills City Council. Minutes of a September 2012 city council meeting reflect Tom Morley raising six complaints against the Mangelluzzis ranging from hosting large parties on the property to clearing 1.2 acres of trees without a permit. City officials responded at the meeting that they believed the Mangelluzzis were in compliance with the building permits granted by the city, but would investigate further complaints.

The Morleys responded to the lawsuit raising 29 defenses to the allegations and sought a judgment on the pleadings. Without hearing further arguments in the case, the trial judge granted the Morleys’ request and dismissed the case. The Mangelluzzis appealed to the Eighth District.

Writing for the appellate court, Judge Mary J. Boyle wrote that both sides have confused the standards for a case to be decided on the initial complaints and response to the complaints filed in pleadings. The Morleys argued that the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court Bell Atlantic v. Twombly decision requires the Mangelluzzis include more than general statements in their complaint in order to go forward with their case. Judge Boyle cited the Ohio Supreme Court’s 1975 O’Brien v. Univ. Community Tenants Union Inc. decision indicating a person “is not required to prove his or her case at the pleading stage.” As long as there is a set of facts consistent with complaints made, the case is allowed to move forward.

Judge Boyle wrote the trial court was wrong to adopt the Morleys claim that they had a right to video and take pictures of the Mangelluzzis in their backyard because a person’s backyard is not “private.” She noted that previous rulings dismissing invasion of privacy claims similar to the Morleys came in decisions where more evidence had been gathered at a later stage in the lawsuit. The Mangelluzzis claim they spent an additional $10,000 on a privacy fence to stop the Morleys from recording their children, but the Morleys climbed to the top of their children’s swing set in order to continue taping. Judge Boyle ruled there is no bright line rule that indicates an invasion of privacy claim fails if people are in their own backyard.

Additionally, the appellate court found the Mangelluzzis had provided enough information at this stage of a lawsuit to press on with all their claims against the Morleys, and none of the defenses raised by the Morleys can be applied. While sending the case back to the trial court for further proceedings, Judge Boyle noted the Eighth District is not commenting on the merits of the Morleys’ defenses until “the facts are fully developed and analyzed.”

Judges Larry A. Jones and Eileen A. Gallagher concurred in the decision.

Mangelluzzi v. Morley, 2015-Ohio-3143
Appeal from: Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: Aug. 6, 2015

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