Covid-19 Pandemic: Impacting Ohio’s Legal System

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives and is likewise affecting all aspects of the legal system – criminal, civil, and administrative elements have all had repercussions.

On March 27, Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 197, Ohio’s Emergency COVID-19 Response Bill, designed to provide emergency relief to Ohioans during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Not surprisingly, H.B. 197 affects all litigation in the State of Ohio, and affects any pending or anticipated civil litigation matters and administrative proceedings under the Ohio Revised Code or Ohio Administrative Code.

Section 22 of H.B. 197 tolls the limitations periods and deadlines which were set to expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020, for the following categories:

  • Statute of limitations for a civil cause of action against a person under any section in Chapter 2305 of the Revised Code (which includes specific statutes of limitations for tort and contract claims codified in Chapter 2305)
  • Periods of limitations for any administrative action or proceeding as provided under the Revised Code or Administrative Code.

Accordingly, any statute of limitations set to expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020 is tolled.  However, statutes of limitations that expired prior to March 9, 2020, as well as statutes of limitations set to expire after July 30, 2020, are unaffected by the Bill.

In addition to the tolling of the limitation periods indicated, the Bill also tolls the following:

  • The time within which discovery must be completed
  • The time within which a party must be served
  • Any other civil or administrative time limitation or deadline under the Revised Code

These provisions of the H.B. 197 apply retroactively to March 9, 2020, when Governor DeWine signed the Executive Order declaring a State of Emergency in Ohio due to COVID-19, and will expire on the date the period of emergency ends or on July 30, 2020, whichever is sooner.

In response to H.B. 197, the Ohio Supreme Court entered an Order to complement the new law, also retroactive to March 9, 2020 and lasting until the earlier of July 30, 2020 or when the emergency order expires.  The Order tolls deadlines and requirements imposed by all Rules promulgated by the Supreme Court, as opposed to the statutory time frames tolled by H.B. 197.

Under the Order, “time requirements” means the time for filing all pleadings, appeals, and all other filings; time limitations; deadlines; as well as other directives related to time, including non-constitutional jurisdictional deadlines.  Time requirements imposed by the Rules of the Court and set to expire during the term of the Supreme Court order are tolled.  When the Order expires, all time requirements tolled by the Order will resume.

As explained by the Court, tolling serves to freeze time from the date the tolling begins, March 9, 2020, until the expiration of the Order.  As an example, if a deadline is set to expire on March 19, 2020 (ten days after the Order effective date), the deadline will now expire ten days after the tolling Order is lifted.  The Order also provides that an Court Rule requiring a to party appear in person or requiring in-person service may be waived by the Court, local court, hearing panel, board, or commission.

Ohio courts remain open during the emergency period.  Nothing in the Order precludes filings during the duration of the Order and, notwithstanding the tolling of time requirements in the Order, the Supreme Court, local courts, hearing panels, boards, or commissions, as applicable, may still require filing in accordance with existing rules and orders setting a specific schedule in a case.  A specific order in a case issued after March 9, 2020 supersedes the tolling provisions of the Order, unless specified in the specific order.  Scheduling orders issued before March 9, 2020 should be reconsidered by the local court issuing such an order.

On April 14, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court entered a separate Order effective April 21, 2020, which applies only to matters filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio.  As of April 21, 2020, the Rules of Practice of the Supreme Court are reinstated.

H.B. 197 and the Supreme Court Order toll statutory limitation periods codified in Revised Code Chapter 2305 and deadlines in Rules promulgated by the Supreme Court. They do not affect an insurance policy’s suit limitation provision, which is a contractual limitation specified in the policy. Nothing in H.B. 197 or the Supreme Court Order extends contractual time limitations.

Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or concerns regarding H.B. 197 and the Ohio Supreme Court’s Order.

By: Miranda R. Powell, Esq.