Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals Denies Trespassing Tenant’s Retaliation and False Arrest Claims

Posted on December 5th, 2014 by sutteroconnell

Wozniak v. Fritsch, 2014-Ohio-4693 (8th Dist.)

Plaintiff Thomas Wozniak recently appealed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants, detectives for the City of Lakewood and a number of individuals including the apartment management firm C&M Haven.   Wozniak made claims of false arrest and retaliation against defendants after being arrested for trespassing on private property.  The Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision and found “no merit to any of Wozniak’s arguments.”

For approximately ten years Wozniak lived in Fedor Manor, a HUD-financed facility operated by C&M Haven. In February 2012, Wozniak was seen entering and exiting several apartments, one of which was occupied by another tenant.   Obviously concerned about the incident, C&M reported the matter to Lakewood police.  Police requested a statement from Wozniak, but Wozniak refused until he could speak with an attorney.  After arrest warrants were issued for criminal trespass, Wozniak gave a statement, claiming a reasonable basis to enter the apartments and explaining he thought all were unoccupied.  In April 2013, C&M reportedly gave Wozniak notice of its intent to terminate his tenancy.

Wozniak pled no contest to the criminal charges against him.  Shortly thereafter, he took aim at those he felt responsible for his arrest: Lakewood detectives and C&M Haven defendants.  Wozniak filed a civil case, claiming false arrest and retaliation. The defendants moved for summary judgment and it was granted.  Wozniak appealed.

Wozniak based his retaliation claim against C&M Haven on the argument that C&M evicted him because he filed a lawsuit against the company… in 2008. The court needed only a single paragraph to dismiss this claim, stating, “Even if the intent to evict is a sufficient basis to advance a retaliation claim, temporal proximity between the lawful activity and the retaliation is generally a substantial factor in determining the landlord’s motives.” Five years was a bit too long.

The second issue the court was asked to address was in regard to Wozniak’s claim for false arrest against the Lakewood detectives.  The only support Wozniak provided was a self-serving affidavit which set forth his “reasonable explanation” for trespassing in the apartments.  The Eighth District highlighted the preposterous nature of these claims with one sentence, “Other than noting the obvious, most criminals can articulate a ‘reasonable explanation’ for their criminal conduct, Wozniak’s statements conceded his presence in the occupied and unoccupied apartments, for which he had to open doors to gain access.”  Essentially, the court was able to bury Wozniak’s case in the hole he had dug himself by admitting to breaking the law.