Two centuries ago, the Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court “rode the circuit” on horseback across the State, holding court in Ohio’s many county courthouses. A bit of that tradition survives today under the Court’s Off-Site Court Program, which is held twice a year outside of Columbus in order to educate high school students and other Ohio citizens about Ohio’s judicial system. As the Court’s website explains,
“When the Supreme Court holds court off-site, public, private and home-schooled high school students from throughout the host county are invited to participate. The students and their teachers are provided with curriculum material to study before the session, including summaries of the specific cases to be argued. Local attorneys team with educators at each participating school to explain Ohio’s judicial system and review case materials. On the morning of the court session, selected students attend a question and answer session with the justices of the Court. Then, students from each participating school attend one of the four oral arguments. After their assigned case has been argued, each group of students meets with the case attorneys for a debriefing.”
On April 9, at an off-site session to be held at the University of Toledo College of Law, the Ohio Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in an interesting employment dispute, Cedar Fair, L.P. v. Falfas, Ohio Supreme Court Case No. 2013-0890. The case concerns Jacob “Jack” Falfas, a longtime employee of Cedar Fair, which is the publicly-traded entity that owns Cedar Point and several other amusement parks across the country. Falfas worked his way up the corporate ladder to become Chief Operating Officer, and he was employed pursuant to a 2007 Amended and Restated Employment Agreement, with an automatic three-year renewal commencing on December 1, 2009 (and on every subsequent three-year anniversary) unless one of the parties provided advance notice of intent to terminate.
In June 2010, after a short telephone call with Cedar Fair’s CEO, Falfas’s employment ceased. Cedar Fair took the position that Falfas had resigned, while Falfas contended that he was terminated. In a 2-1 decision, an Arbitration Panel determined that Falfas was terminated for reasons other than cause, and that the facts failed to establish resignation. Most notably for purposes of this appeal, the arbitrators found that “equitable relief was needed to restore the parties to the positions they held prior to the breach of the Employment Agreement.” The Arbitrators thus directed that Falfas be restored to his former position as COO, with back pay.
Cedar Fair tried to vacate the Arbitrators’ award in common pleas court, and Falfas sought to confirm it. These actions were consolidated. Relying on a 1953 decision of the Ohio Supreme Court, Masetta v. National Bronze & Aluminum Foundry Co., 159 Ohio St. 306, 112 N.E.2d 15, the trial court concluded that, unless statutorily available, reinstatement is not a remedy for breach of a personal services contract. Accordingly, the trial court vacated the Arbitrators’ award of reinstatement (but confirmed the Arbitrators’ award of back pay and benefits). The Sixth District Court of Appeal, however, reversed—holding that the Arbitrators’ award must be confirmed in its entirety — including Falfas’s reinstatement. The Court of Appeals determined that Masetta was “inapposite,” opining that Masetta’s rule precluding courts from awarding reinstatement was “limited to cases seeking class-wide injunctive relief based upon a collectively bargained contract.”
The Ohio Supreme Court accepted Cedar Fair’s discretionary appeal, agreeing to decide whether Masetta’s bar on specific performance as a remedy is as limited in application as the Sixth District concluded. In its Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction, which successfully attracted the Supreme Court’s attention, Cedar Fair asked the Supreme Court “to resolve a conflict among the intermediate appellate courts regarding whether *** Ohio courts have broad authority to order that specific employees be reinstated to specific positions at any time, so long as the case is not a class action involving collective bargaining. *** Before the decision below, when Ohio businesses made personnel decisions, they could rely on the well-settled principle that, absent specific, clear exceptions, Ohio courts could not force them to employ specific persons for specific jobs — particularly not policy-making jobs at the highest levels of corporate governance.”
Blog readers interested in following this case can obtain automatic updates from the Supreme Court by setting up a free account at this link. Those interested in reviewing the briefs can obtain them here on the docket. And, the April 9 oral argument at the Toledo special session will be streamed live here.