A new trial has been set for next year in the ongoing abuse of process lawsuit between a former Liberty Township trustee and seven township residents.
The defendants in the case — the residents — were originally sued in 2020 and were accused of abuse of process, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress by then-Liberty Township Trustee Mike Gemperline. The case centers around a 2019 petition to remove Gemperline from office filed by the defendants: Domenico Franano, Karen Slavik, Rebecca Mount, Susan Miceli, Kerry Daly, William Houk and Gary R. Johnson.
Gemperline, who lost his bid for reelection to the Liberty Township Board of Trustees in November 2021, alleged in his lawsuit that the seven Liberty Township residents used speculation that he wanted to dismantle Liberty Township EMS and instead rely on Delaware County EMS for emergency services to get residents to sign the petition. Gemperline said the speculation was false, and he never planned to reduce services in the township. The petition succeeded, and a complaint was filed against Gemperline, though it was later voluntarily dismissed.
There have been numerous developments in the case since it was first filed in 2020, including Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David M. Gormley dismissing the lawsuit in December 2020 and the Fifth District Court of Appeals overturning that ruling and allowing the abuse of process claim to continue in 2021. The defendants appealed that decision to the Ohio Supreme Court in October 2021, but the court declined to hear the case and the lawsuit continued in common pleas court.
On Feb. 3, Gormley filed a scheduling entry and outlined several new dates in the case. Gormley ordered that all discovery be completed by June 3, 2022, and set a pretrial hearing on Dec. 19, 2022. Gormley scheduled the trial to begin at 9 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2023.
Last month, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the abuse of process claim based on the Noerr-Pennington doctrine, which broadly immunizes individuals who petition the government by invoking the First Amendment. When Gormley dismissed the lawsuit in 2020, he said the defendants’ argument that they were protected by Noerr-Pennington “might well have merit” but determined it was not necessary to invoke the doctrine in order to dismiss the lawsuit.
In their motion, the defendants argue that they are protected by the doctrine and said not dismissing it based on that could have legal consequences outside of this case.
Gormley has not yet ruled on the motion. There have been no filings since Gormley’s scheduling order.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.