In a pair of opinions released today, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the employer intentional tort statute, R.C. 2745.01, does not violate the right to a jury trial or access to courts, the separation-of-powers doctrine, the right to due process of law, or the right to equal protection under the laws. The decisions are perhaps most interesting for their discussion of the legislative history of employer tort law and worker’s comp law, as well as the Court’s general policy statements on the role of the legislative and judicial branches.
In reaching its conclusion that the statute was facially constitutional, the Court relied in part on the statute’s legislative history, explaining that it “embodies the General Assembly’s intent to significantly curtail an employee’s access to common-law damages for what we will call a ‘substantially certain’ employer intentional tort” — but also noted that the statute “does not abolish the tort entirely.”
The Court also reiterated its prior holding that “the legislative branch of government is ‘the ultimate arbiter of public policy’” and that “the legislature is entrusted with the power to continually refine Ohio’s laws to meet the needs of our citizens.” Furthermore, the Court wrote that “[i]t is not the role of the courts to second-guess the General Assembly’s policy choices,” including policy choices which “alter, revise, modify, or abolish the common law.”
As to the merits of the certified questions, the Court rejected the argument that the current version of R.C. 2745.01 was so similar to prior unconstitutional versions that stare decisis must apply to invalidate it. Instead, the current version differs in the required standard of proof and lacks several limitations on damages contained in prior versions.
The cases are Stetter v. R.J. Corman Derailment Services, LLC, 2010-Ohio-1029 [PDF] and Kaminski v. Metal & Wire Products Company, 2010-Ohio-1027 [PDF].