A downtown Kent bar owner filed a complaint Dec. 15 in the Ohio Court of Claims against Kent State and one of its student-run magazines, Fusion.
Matthew Guska, one of the co-owners of 157 Lounge on S. Water Street, said in the complaint that the magazine, which covers LGBTQ issues, defamed him and caused physical and financial damage to him and his business. Guska asked for monetary damages.
MJ Eckhouse, Fusion’s student editor, was originally named in a lawsuit Guska filed in the Portage County Common Pleas Court in September 2017. Eckhouse briefly published an online article about a Facebook post made by Sarah Andrews, a Kent State alumna, who wrote about her experience working at the bar.
Andrews was also named in the lawsuit. Guska requested a temporary restraining order against Andrews for publishing “false statements” about him that included sexual harassment allegations. The restraining order would require Andrews to take down any “defamatory” posts and prevent her from making them.
Guska said Andrews was fired from the bar because she stole money from the business. Andrews denied it in court documents.
Andrews filed for a civil protection order (CPO) against Guska. She wrote in her request that Guska took a photo of her face, took it to a shooting range and shot multiple holes in the picture.
Eckhouse and Fusion were dropped from the case in Portage County after their attorneys argued the county court did not have jurisdiction over a state entity. Andrews’ case was moved to her county of residence on Nov. 30 at the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
In his complaint to the Ohio Court of Claims, Guska requested a hearing for the court to determine whether Eckhouse can be granted immunity from the case. Guska said in his complaint Eckhouse acted with “malicious purpose” and “should be held personally liable for statements and actions.”
Despite the request, Eckhouse was dismissed from the case Dec. 18 by magistrate Robert Van Schoyk. Court documents explained that under Ohio law, only state agencies can act as defendants in a case at the Court of Claims.
Kent State’s response to Guska’s complaint said it was “largely cut-and-pasted” from his original lawsuit against Andrews in Portage County. The university said in the court documents that his complaint did not quote or mention the Fusion article and that “[Guska] has alleged no basis for this case against KSU, which makes this case dismissable on that ground alone.”
The university also said, in court documents, an article could “never give rise to a defamation claim” for multiple reasons, as it “would be protected under the neutral reportage privilege.” The reporting would be protected because “allegations of sexual assault are plainly matters of public interest,” the university said.
Brian Taubman, Guska’s lawyer, declined to comment on the case. A message was left for the Attorney General’s office.
The case management conference for the Court of Claims case is scheduled Feb. 15 and the trial is set to begin Feb. 11, 2019.
Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold was assigned to the case in Cuyahoga County. A case management conference is scheduled Jan. 23 at the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
Brandon Bounds is an enterprise reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.