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Ohio Court Operations and Access During the Coronavirus Crisis

On March 19, 2020, Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor gave an update on the State Judicial Branch’s response to the coronavirus crisis at a press conference held by Governor Mike DeWine. As of the date of this update, individual courts within the State of Ohio have the authority to issue their own emergency procedures regarding court access, trials, hearings and filings during the coronavirus pandemic. Most municipal, county and appellate courts throughout Ohio have already issued orders changing the procedures to be followed until further notice.  The Ohio Judicial Conference has an extensive list of links to these temporary local court rule changes at: http://www.ohiojudges.org/Resources/covid-19-emergency-planning

Although Chief Justice O’Connor is allowing local courts to determine how to operate in their communities’ best interests for the time-being, she has provided significant guidance on issues the courts should be considering, including:

  • The total closure of the court system in Ohio is not an option since it would prevent access to justice.
  • Courts must especially remain open to address criminal, emergency and time-sensitive matters.
  • Jury pools and the level of public traffic in courthouses should be reduced.
  • Judges should consider lowering bonds and issuing summonses instead of ordering arrests, depending upon the severity of the crimes at issue.
  • Hearings should be held by video or telephone conference when possible.
  • Clerks of Courts should remain open to allow for public filings.

It is important to emphasize that Ohio courts are still in operation during this time, and in most instances, there will still be ways to address whatever legal issues you are facing through the Judicial System.  If you have a pending court case, it is highly recommended that you discuss the court’s current procedures with your attorney and also discuss how these changes could impact your case practically and strategically.  Some questions which might arise, include:

Is my civil trial likely to go forward as scheduled?  Many local courts have postponed civil trials for 30 days or more, but you should consult with your attorney.

Should I appear in person for my hearing? Many hearings, such as pretrials and non-emergency hearings, are being conducted by the courts by telephone or videoconference.  However, hearings that involve evidence will still likely require a court appearance by you and/or your attorney.  You will want to ask your attorney how the court is handling your particular hearing.

Has my foreclosure or eviction been put on hold? Chief Justice O’Connor has recommended that foreclosure sales and evictions for non-payment of rent be put on hold temporarily, but this is still at the discretion of the local courts.  An eviction for an issue other than non-payment of rent will likely not be put on hold by your local court.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development has placed a hold on foreclosures of mortgages backed by the federal government until the end of April 2020 and some banks are also placing a temporary stay on their foreclosure filings.  Contact your attorney or bank with questions.

Do the deadlines that were previously set in my case still apply?  Yes.  All deadlines for answers, motions, discovery cutoffs and other time-limits still apply unless you or your attorney ask the Court for an extension of the deadline, and it is granted.

Can I file a new case, vehicle title or other filing at the Clerk of Courts?  Clerks of Courts remain open for business throughout the State of Ohio.  You will want to call ahead to see if your filing can be received in person, by mail, or electronically.

I’ve been ordered to appear for jury duty, what should I do?  Call the juror call-in number provided on your juror summons to find out if you need to appear at the Court in person.

All of these guidelines are for municipal, county and appellate courts in Ohio only. If you have a case pending in Federal Court or in a different State, you will want to carefully check that court’s particular coronavirus response. As always, the Litigation Team at Brennan, Manna & Diamond is ready to assist and advise you with your legal needs during this difficult time.  Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions that you might have.

HHS Announces an Additional $20 Billion In Provider Relief Grants

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced an additional $20 billion in new funding for providers on October 1, 2020. Eligible providers include those that have already received Provider Relief Fund payments as well as previously ineligible providers, such as those who began practicing in 2020, and an expanded group of behavioral health providers confronting the emergence of increased mental health and substance use issues exacerbated by the pandemic. The new Phase 3 General Distribution is designed to balance an equitable payment of 2% of annual revenue from patient care for all applicants plus an add-on payment to account for revenue losses and expenses attributable to COVID-19.

DOL Proposes New Rule Regarding Independent Contractor Status - But How Will the Election Affect Its Future?

On September 22, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new proposed rule regarding employee and independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The full text of the proposed rule is available here. The rule's drafters intend to reduce uncertainty and enhance the precision and predictability of the long-standing "economic reality" test, which currently relies on a multifactor balancing test.

Major Change to Franklin County, Ohio Eviction Process: Landlord Testimony Required

Although there is currently a nationwide temporary halt on all residential evictions through December 31, 2020 in place, the eviction process in Franklin County – which processes the highest number of evictions in the State of Ohio at approximately 18,000 a year – recently changed significantly.

UPDATE: Governor Dewine Signs HB 606 Granting Short Window of Immunity from COVID-19 Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Ohio General Assembly, in Am. Sub. H.B. No. 606, is in the final stages of passing a law that will prohibit lawsuits seeking damages from COVID-19. This includes injury, death, or loss to person or property if the lawsuits are based, in whole or in part, on the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of the coronavirus, unless the defendant in the lawsuit acted intentionally or recklessly. In circumstances where this immunity does not apply, H.B. 606 prohibits such claims being aggregated and brought as a class action.

Revised Department of Labor FFCRA Guidance, Effective September 16, 2020

In response to attacks on the legality of the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Final Rule regarding the Families First Coronavirus Act (“FFCRA” or the “Act”), which took effect in April 2020, the Department of Labor issued new guidance on Friday, September 11th to formally address ongoing questions and concerns related to the COVID-19 legislation.