Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Driver of chartered bus covered under university's automobile insurance policy, Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that when an auto insurance policy issued to a university extends liability coverage to any person operating “with permission” a vehicle that is “owned, hired or borrowed” by the university, that language provides coverage for injuries resulting from a traffic accident in which a bus driver employed by a charter bus company was operating the company’s bus while it was under charter by the university.

This case deals with the tragic bus accident that killed and injured a number of members of the Bluffton University baseball team in March 2007 (as well as the bus driver and his wife). It is believed that the bus driver thought that he was in the carpool lane but really was on a highway exit ramp. The bus then plunged off the overpass onto the highway below.

The charter bus company has already paid $5 million, while the State of Georgia has paid $3 million. The court's ruling, which overturned the decision of the 3rd District Court of Appeals' decision, could mean an additional $21 million dollars for the victims and the victims' families.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Charter school officers liable to state as "public officials," Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court of Ohio unanimosuly held today that an officer, employee or duly authorized agent of a community school that receives public funds under R.C. Chapter 3314 falls within the statutory definition of a “public official,” and therefore such persons may be personally liable to the state for lost or misspent public funds.

In that case, the defendant was treasurer of the board of directors of a charter school that ultimately failed. An investigation by the State Auditor's office found that the school had been overpaid by around $1.5 million dollars by over-inflating its enrollment numbers.

The state sought recovery of the overpaid funds from the defendant who argued that she was not personally liable for the funds because she was an officer of the corporation who was shielded from liability. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that she was a public official.

The case now goes back to the trial court in Cleveland to make the determination as to whether or not the defendant's responsibilities at at the charter school included the receipt or collection of public money, or whether she supervised employees who received or collected public money under color of office.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ohio Department of Education not final decision maker of whether an organization is eligible to sponsor charter school, Supreme Court of Ohio rules

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the Ohio Department of Education does not have the final say as to whether an organization is "education-oriented" and thus capable of sponsoring a charter school.

In that case, the Brookwood Presybeterian Church had applied to ODE in order to sponsor a charter or "community" school. The ODE, after reviewing the application, denied the request, finding that the organization was not "education-oriented" and thus ineligible to sponsor a school. The statute in question provides that decision's of the Ohio Department of Education in this matter are "final." Thus, when the plaintiff attempted to appeal the decision, both the trial court and the court of appeals held that ODE's decision was not subject to judicial review.

The legal question to be answered by the Supreme Court of Ohio was whether or not the word "final" meant "final and appealable" or that ODE had the right to make the final determination. In reading the provision in context with other provisions in the statute, the Court held, per Justice Pfeiffer, that the denial was subject to appeal by the common pleas court, pursuant to ORC 119.

Note: this does not mean that the plaintiff gets to sponsor a charter school; rather, the opinion merely states that the plaintiff can appeal the denial to the Court of Common Pleas.