Translation of the Summary Disposition of the case of Luri v. Republic Services Inc.

Ronald Luri won 3.5 million in compensatory damages and slightly over $43 million in punitive damages in a retaliatory discharge suit against three related corporate defendants and two individual defendants. Each defendant was assessed a separate punitive damages award. The award against each of the corporate defendants was different, and each exceeded 7 million dollars.

The trial court applied the statutory punitive damages cap separately to each of the three corporate defendants, awarding the plaintiff $21 in punitive damages. The Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed in a split decision, reducing the punitive damages to a single $7 million award. (the dissenting judge would have upheld the $21 million verdict, permitting $7 million from each corporate defendant.) The plaintiff appealed from this finding.  The Supreme Court also accepted a cross appeal from the defendants on the constitutionality of R.C. 2315.21(B), the mandatory bifurcation provision of the punitive damages statute, and ordered that issue held pending its decision in Havel v. Villa St. Joseph, (also from the Eighth District Court of Appeals)  which has since been released, upholding the constitutionality of that mandatory bifurcation provision. Under R.C. 2315.21(B), upon motion of any party, any tort action tried to a jury in which the plaintiff seeks both compensatory and punitive damages must be bifurcated.

At argument in the Luri case, plaintiff’s counsel argued that R.C. 2315.21 is unambiguous and under the plain language of the statute, the punitive damage cap must be applied separately to each defendant.

Defense counsel led with Havel and stuck with it, arguing that the Court’s decision in Havel is unequivocal—since the defense twice moved for bifurcation in this case, and the trial court denied it, the case must be reversed and remanded for a new trial. Period.

You can read the analysis of the oral argument here.

On July 3, 2012  the Supreme Court of Ohio issued this unanimous summary disposition of the Luri case, 2012-Ohio-2914.

Per Curiam.

{¶ 1} The certified question in case No. 2011-1097 is answered in the negative, and the cross-appellants’ first proposition of law in case No. 2011-1120 is sustained. Appellant’s discretionary appeal in case No. 2011-1120 is moot. The judgment of the court of appeals is reversed, and the cause is remanded for application of Havel v. Villa St. Joseph, 131 Ohio St.3d 235, 2012-Ohio-552, 963 N.E.2d 1270.

 Translation

Good-bye jury verdict.

 The certified question in case No. 2011-1097 is answered in the negative.

The certified question in the  Luri case was whether the mandatory bifurcation provision of the punitive damages statute, 2315.21(B), as amended by S.B. 80, effective April 7th, 2005, is unconstitutional.  That’s the same question the Court addressed in Havel v. Villa St. Joseph, also from the Eighth District.  The certified question in Luri was held pending the determination in Havel, which upheld the constitutionality of the mandatory bifurcation provision. Read my post on the Havel case here.

So, based on the decision in Havel, the Court answered the certified question in the Luri case with a “no” . 

The cross-appellants’ first proposition of law in case No. 2011-1120 is sustained. Appellant’s discretionary appeal in case No. 2011-1120 is moot.

The defendants’ first proposition of law in Luri case number 2011-1120 was that the mandatory bifurcation provision of the punitive damages statute was constitutional.  This was sustained, which rendered plaintiff’s appeal moot. 

 The judgment of the court of appeals is reversed, and the cause is remanded for application of Havel v. Villa St. Joseph,

The Court of Appeals issued a split decision on how to apply the punitive damages cap in the Luri case. But the Supreme Court did not reach this issue, instead reversing the appeals court on the authority of Havel. That means that the case must be re-tried, and bifurcated, as the defendants had requested.  In the first phase, no evidence of any kind relating solely to plaintiff’s entitlement to punitive damages is permitted.

Concluding Observations

A few weeks before oral argument in this case, the defendants filed a motion for summary reversal on the authority of Havel, and requested the cancellation of oral argument. The Supreme Court denied the motion. I predicted the Court could well go this route anyway, and that the decision in Havel could well kill this case. It did.

 

 

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