PENDING IN THE SUPREME COURT
Longbottom v. Huber, Sup. Ct. Case No. 2012-1260 (Ct. App. Clermont Cty., 2012-Ohio-2148)
The plaintiffs in this case obtained a verdict in the amount of $2,412,899, which the trial court then reduced by the $500,000 the plaintiffs had received from a prior settlement. The trial court then granted the plaintiffs' motion for prejudgment interest, and awarded the plaintiffs prejudgment interest in the amount of $830,774.66. The defendants appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in refusing to grant them judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or a new trial, based upon the alleged insufficiency of the plaintiffs' evidence regarding proximate cause, but the Court of Appeals rejected that argument. The defendants also argued that the trial court had erred in its award of prejudgment interest, and that the trial court should have applied the version of the prejudgment interest as amended by House Bill 212, which was effective in June of 2004, to the plaintiffs claim for prejudgment interest. The plaintiff, in turn, argued that the trial court had erred in failing to award prejudgment interest during the time period between when the first action the plaintiffs had filed had been voluntarily dismissed, and the refiling of the instant action.
The Court of Appeals held that there was no provision in the legislation amending the prejudgment interest (H.B. 212) that indicated that it was to be applied retroactively, and, therefore, affirmed the trial court's award, including the award of prejudgment interest during the period between the voluntary dismissal and the refiling. The Court of Appeals then noted that its decision in this regard conflicted with the decision of the Eighth District Court of Appeals in Barnes v. Univ. Hosp. of Cleveland, 2006-Ohio-6266, and, therefore, certified the following question to the Ohio Supreme Court for resolution:
Whether the version of the prejudgment interest, R.C. 1343.03 (C), as amended effective June 2, 2004, can be applied retroactively to claims accruing before June 2, 2004?
The Court, over the over the dissents of Justices Pfeifer and Cupp, has agreed to answer that question.
It should be noted, however, that the legislation amending the prejudgment interest statute, House Bill 212, does, in fact, contain language regarding retroactivity. Specifically, the legislation provides as follows:
Section 3. The interest rate provided for in division (A) of section 1343.03 of the Revised Code, as amended by this act, applies to actions pending on the effective date of this act. In the calculation of interest due under section 1343.03 of the Revised Code, in actions pending on the effective date of this act, the interest rate provided for in section 1343.03 of the Revised Code prior to the amendment of that section by this act shall apply up to the effective date of this act, and the interest rate provided in section 1343.03 of the Revised Code as amended by this act shall apply on and after that effective date.
Thus, the legislation does provide for limited retroactive effect: it mandates that the interest rate provided for in the amended version of the statute be applied to any interest awarded after the effective date of the statute, but that the prior rate of 10% be applied to any prejudgment interest accruing prior to the effective date. For example, if a cause of action accrued in 2003, and a verdict was obtained in 2005, the 10% interest rate of the un-amended version of the statute would apply for the period between the accrual of the cause of action and the effective date of the statute, and then the interest rate provided for in the amended version of the statute would apply to any interest awarded after the effective date of the statute. Importantly, then, there is no indication in H.B. 212 that any of the substantive changes in this legislation, such as precluding the award of prejudgment interest on future damages, and the provisions changing the date upon which a claim for prejudgment interest occurs, should have any retroactive effect whatsoever.
Mann v. Northgate Investors, L.L.C., Sup. Ct. Case No. 2012-1600 (Ct. App. Franklin Cty., 2012-Ohio-2871)
The plaintiff in this case had been visiting a friend in her second-floor apartment, and had to use the only set of stairs available to reach the second-floor apartment, which stairway was unlit. The evidence was that the landlord has been requested to fix the light on the stairs on prior occasions. As the plaintiff was leaving her friend's apartment, she stumbled on the dark steps and fell. The plaintiff filed suit and the defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff could not identify what exactly it was that caused her to fall, and on the ground that the plaintiff was a business invitee, not a tenant, such that the provisions of the Ohio's Landlord-Tenant act did not apply, which would mean that the defendant only owed the plaintiff a ordinary duty of care. The defendant also claimed that the darkness was an open and obvious condition, such that it had no duty to the plaintiff. The trial court agreed with the defendants and granted its motion for summary judgment.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the Landlord-Tenant act did apply to both tenants and their guests, such that the trial court had erred in failing to apply the provisions of the Landlord-Tenant act to the plaintiff's claim and in granting the defendant summary judgment. The Court of Appeals also noted that the open and obvious defense was not available in actions brought under the Landlord-Tenant act. The Court of Appeals however indicated that its decision conflicted with that rendered by the Summit County Court of Appeals in Shoemaker v. Park Lane Manor of Akron, 2011-Ohio-1052, and therefore certified the following question to the Ohio Supreme Court for resolution:
Whether landlord owes the statutory duties of R.C. 5321.04(A)(3) to a tenant's guest properly on the premises but on the common area stairs at the time of injury?
The Court, over the dissents of Justices Pfeiffer, O'Donnell, and Cupp, has agreed to answer that question
Riscatta v. Prime props. L.P., Sup. Ct. Case No. 2012-1307 (Ct. App. Cuyahoga Cty., 2012-Ohio-2921)
The plaintiffs in this case brought claims against various defendants, including political subdivisions, arguing then they had negligently maintained a fuel storage tank and sewer lines such that gasoline fumes were traveling into their homes causing injury and damages. The political subdivisions moved for dismissal based upon both immunity and the statute of limitations. The trial court denied the political subdivisions' motion, and they appealed.
The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs' claims involved the negligent performance or a proprietary function, not a governmental function, such that there was no immunity. The Court of Appeals then held that the issue whether the trial court had erred in denying the political subdivisions' motion to dismiss based upon the statute of limitations was not properly before it because the trial court's decision in that regard was not a final appeal order. Judge Rocco dissented, and concluded that an immunity is the same as a statute of limitations defense, such that a decision of a trial court denying judgment to a political subdivision based upon the statute of limitations was a decision denying a political subdivision of a claim of immunity that was immediately appealable.
The political subdivisions have now appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court and the Court, over the dissents of Justices Pfeifer and Lanzinger, has agreed to review the following proposition of law:
An Order That Denies A Political Subdivision The Benefit Of The Limitation Period Of R.C. 2744.04 Is A Final Order Because It Denies The Political Subdivision The Benefit Of An Alleged Immunity From Liability Under R.C. 2744.02(C).