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Ouch: Ohio Supreme Court Commands Jury to Decide if Officer’s Actions are Manifestly Outside Scope of Employment After K-9 Bites Social Guest

In the case of Harris v. Hilderbrand, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-3005, the Ohio Supreme Court held that it is a jury question as to whether a K-9 officer’s actions when a K-9 unit bites a guest at the officer’s house are manifestly outside the scope of the officer’s employment or official responsibilities, such that immunity does not shield the officer from a common law negligence cause of action.

In this case, the guest argued that the officer’s actions were manifestly outside of the scope of employment because the events took place at the officer’s own home during a social gathering, the officer consumed alcohol, and the officer was demonstrating the K-9 unit’s skills for entertainment and not training purposes. The officer’s actions, it was alleged, were “plainly, obviously” self-serving and had no relation to the sheriff department’s official responsibilities, such that immunity could not apply under Ohio Revised Code 2744.03(A)(6)(a).

In response, the K-9 officer argued that the dog was required by K-9 policy to live at the house with the officer and that introducing the dog to different people in different social settings furthers the objective of the police department of teaching the dog to behave properly in diverse human settings.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that the determination about whether an activity is manifestly outside the scope of employment is a question better left to a jury as a matter of fact, not as of law. The issues as to whether the officer was consuming alcohol, gave the K-9 unit beer, removed the K-9 unit’s shock collar, and was giving the K-9 unit work commands throughout the social gathering create enough questions of material fact that summary judgment was improper.

To read this case, click here.

NOTE: This decision reversed the appellate court’s decision to grant summary judgment and did NOT decide the case either way. The end result may be different.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.\

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