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Suing Political Subdivisions: The Importance Of Pleading Official Capacity Versus Individual Capacity

| Feb 14, 2013 | Age Discrimination, americans with disabilities act |

Are you an employee of a city? Are you an employee of a township? What about a county? Have you ever been injured or been in an accident involving someone who works for one of these entities? If any of these circumstances apply to you, you are dealing with what Ohio law classifies as a political subdivision. Furthermore, if you elect to file suit against an individual employed by a political subdivision, you must pay due attention to whether that person should be sued in his or her “official” or “individual” capacity.

Indeed, the Ohio Supreme Court recently examined the difference between “official” and “individual” capacity in Lambert v. Clancy. In Lambert, the plaintiff had previously filed suit against an individual, Hartmann, who held the position of Clerk of Courts in Hamilton County. The plaintiff did not sue Hamilton County or the Clerk of Courts Office, only Hartmann. Moreover, in her complaint, the plaintiff did not use the words “official” or “individual” as to the capacity in which she was suing Hartmann.

Faced with these facts, the Supreme Court answered the question of whether Hartmann was being sued in his official capacity or his individual capacity, and what were the implications of both alternatives. After looking at the complaint, the Supreme Court determined that the facts alluded to the fact that the plaintiff’s claims were directly not at Hartmann individually but rather towards him in his official capacity as Clerk of Courts in Hamilton County. Based on this finding, the Lambert Court then held, “when the allegations contained in a complaint are directed against an office of a political subdivision, the officeholder named as a defendant is sued in his or her official capacity, rather than in his or her individual or personal capacity.” This led the Supreme Court to hold that when an individual is sued in his official capacity, the suit is equivalent or the same as a suit against the political subdivision itself.

The impact of the Lambert holding is grave because based on the determination that the suit against Hartmann in his official capacity was equivalent to a suit against the Clerk of Court’s Office of Hamilton County, the Supreme Court applied the immunity test under R.C. § 2744.02 (used for political subdivisions) as opposed to R.C. § 2744.03(A)(6) (used for employees of political subdivisions). Thus, Hartmann was subjected to the test for political subdivision immunity, a test that is vastly different in terms of requirements and standards than what is applied to employees of political subdivisions.

So, the important take-away from Lambert is that if an employee or injured person elects to sue an individual from a political subdivision and not the political subdivision itself, two possible results could occur: (1) if the court determines that the individual was sued in his official capacity, then your claims are considered to be against the political subdivision itself and R.C. § 2744.02 will determine if the political subdivision is entitled to immunity; or (2) if the court determines that the individual was sued in his individual capacity, then your claims are considered to be against an “employee” of the political subdivision and the employee will be immune if he meets the requirements under R.C. § 2744.03(A)(6).

If you think you have a claim against a political subdivision for an injury or if you are employed by a political subdivision and feel you have been wronged by your employer, you should contact an employment attorney who can provide you with assistance in handling your potential claims.

If you even think that your employment rights have been violated or that you might need an employment lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 271-3742. The Spitz Law Firm is dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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