On July 3, 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court directed the Eighth District Court of Appeals to apply the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling in Havel v. Villa St. Joseph, 131 Ohio St.3d 235 (2012) that, upon motion of a party, Ohio Revised Code § 2315.21(B) requires a trial court to bifurcate claims for compensatory and punitive damages, to a retaliation claim asserted under Ohio Revised Code § 4112. See Luri v. Republic Servs., Inc., et al., Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-2914. While this ruling may appear rather inconsequential at first blush, it suggests that the Ohio Supreme Court has now, at least implicitly, sanctioned the application of Ohio’s tort reform, specifically Ohio Revised Code § 2315.21, including its cap on punitive damages, to claims brought under the Ohio Civil Rights Act.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s July 3, 2012 ruling arose from an appeal from the Eighth District Court of Appeals’ decision in Luri v. Republic Servs., Inc., et al., 8th Dist. No. 94908, 2011-Ohio-2389 (May 19, 2011), in which the Eighth District Court of Appeals became the first appellate court in Ohio to apply Ohio’s tort reform to claims under the Ohio Civil Rights Act. Specifically, the Eighth District Court of Appeals held that Ohio Revised Code § 2315.21(D)’s punitive damages cap applies to claims brought under the Ohio Civil Rights Act. The Eighth District Court of Appeals held that, because the punitive damages cap applied, the trial court was required to limit any punitive damages to only two times the compensatory damages award of $3.5 million, and reversed the jury’s verdict of $43.1 million in punitive damages. The Eighth District Court of Appeals also held that a trial court retains discretion to decide whether to bifurcate compensatory and punitive damages claims even though Ohio Revised Code § 2315.21(B) provides that bifurcation is mandatory upon proper motion. The court also ruled that because Luri had alleged a single-employer theory of liability, he could recover only a total of $7 million in punitive damages from all of the defendants combined, and he was not entitled to have defendants’ punitive damages awards reviewed independently for application of the punitive damages cap.
Luri appealed the “single recovery” issue to the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that “reviewing courts must consider each defendant’s punitive damage[s] award independently for the application of ‘caps’ under [§] 2315.21(D).” Republic Services, Inc., et al. cross-appealed, advancing several propositions of law, but the only proposition of law accepted by the Ohio Supreme Court was whether Ohio Revised Code § 2315.21(B), which mandates bifurcation of compensatory and punitive damages claims upon a party’s motion, is constitutional and creates a substantive right to bifurcation. While these two issues were both before the Ohio Supreme Court on appeal, the court never addressed whether courts may require collective assessment of a punitive damages award against all defendants where a single-employer theory is advanced. The court concluded that the “single recovery” issue was moot. However, the court addressed the bifurcation issue, reversing the Eighth District Court of Appeals’ ruling that courts retain discretion to decide whether to bifurcate compensatory and punitive damages claims, in light of the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling in Havel, which held, in a medical malpractice case, that § 2315.21(B) is constitutional and creates a substantive right to bifurcation upon a proper motion. The Ohio Supreme Court remanded the case and directed the Eighth District Court of Appeals to apply Havel.
Although it is likely that the Luri case will have a number of additional twists and turns, with respect to application of Ohio's tort reform to claims brought under the Ohio Civil Rights Act, we are hopeful for a smooth and consistent ride moving forward.
If you have questions regarding this ruling, contact the Ogletree Deakins attorney with whom you normally work or the Client Services Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-287-2576.
Note: This article was published in the July 6, 2012 issue of the Ohio eAuthority.