Ohio House Bill 197 to Ease Statute-of-Limitation and Discovery Burdens on Ohio’s Civil Litigants and Attorneys

March 27, 2020Legal Alerts

Ohio House Bill 197 to Ease Statute-of-Limitation and Discovery Burdens on Ohio’s Civil Litigants and Attorneys

On March 25, 2020, the Ohio General Assembly unanimously passed legislation providing emergency relief to Ohio municipalities, businesses, schools, and families related to COVID-19.  Critical to civil litigants in Ohio, the legislation evolved to include emergency measures that will toll statute-of-limitations on forthcoming lawsuits and discovery deadlines in currently pending lawsuits.  The bill is now with Governor Mike DeWine, who worked with the General Assembly on House Bill 197 and thanked it for “the [bill’s] bipartisan and unanimous passage,”[1] for signature.

Originally introduced in Ohio’s House of Representatives on April 11, 2019 as a tax conformity measure, HB 197 underwent substantial amendments in the Senate in response to COVID-19.  The amended measure passed the Senate 26-0 on March 25, 2020.[2]  The House swiftly concurred in the amendment 91-0.[3]  The full text of the amendment can be found here, with a summary available here.  Several of the relief measures in the amendment are temporary and will remain in place until Governor DeWine rescinds his March 9, 2020 emergency Executive Order 2020-01D, or until Dec. 1, 2020, whichever occurs first.  In addition to extending Ohio’s tax-filing deadlines, waiving state testing and report cards for schools in 2019-20, and other anticipated and essential mechanisms to facilitate Ohio’s navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the amendment will provide temporary relief to all of Ohio’s civil litigants and their attorneys.

Statutes of Limitations: Section 1(A)(1)(b) of the amended measure tolls all Ohio civil statutes of limitations expiring between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020.  Any statutes of limitations that would have otherwise expired during this period will now expire on either July 30, 2020 or the date Governor DeWine terminates the period of emergency, whichever date is sooner.  Important to note, this provision will retroactively toll any limitations period that expired between March 9, 2020 and execution of HB 197.

Discovery and Service Deadlines: To soften the burden placed on litigants and attorneys in active Ohio civil litigation, Section 1(A)(7) further tolls parties’ discovery deadlines.  Specifically, it tolls “[t]he time within which discovery or any aspect of discovery must be completed,” which will include deadlines for written discovery, expert discovery, depositions, and any corresponding discovery-related motions.  This measure may remove the need for parties to file motions with their particular court to amend current scheduling orders in response to COVID-19-related delays or business closures.  Finally, Section 1(A)(8) similarly delays the “[t]ime within which a party must be served.”  The amendment likewise extends any such deadlines until July 30, 2020 or termination of the period of emergency, whichever occurs first.

The “joint effort” that is HB 197 is an “extraordinary bill” reflecting a comprehensive but measured response to these “extraordinary times,” said State Rep. Jamie Callendar.[4]  It aims to “ease the burden on Ohio citizens and allow functions of the government to continue during the time of crisis.”[5]  As for civil litigants, it not only provides necessary breathing room in active and forthcoming lawsuits but also removes many uncertainties as to how parties should proceed in coming months.  We will continue to monitor this legislation and the current environment in Ohio and all other states.  If you have any questions regarding HB 197 or its impact on any active litigation you have with our firm, please contact your Dinsmore attorney.