On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the Ohio House and Senate passed House Bill 197.1 The emergency COVID-19 legislation, which was signed into law by Governor DeWine, will have an immediate impact on active and impending litigation matters. Section 22 of the statute tolls statutes of limitation and litigation deadlines in both civil and criminal matters that appear between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020. The following is a brief outline of the specific provisions.
Statutes of Limitations
The emergency legislation specifically tolls all civil statutes of limitation that expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020 without limitation or exclusion. The legislation is retroactive, which means causes of action that expired between March 9 and now are tolled, even though the statute will be signed into law next week.
HB 197 similarly tolls all discovery deadlines that have been set between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020. The legislation does not specifically outline which discovery events are tolled in this time period, but instead succinctly states that “[t]he time within which discovery or any aspect of discovery must be completed” is tolled if the date is between March 9 and July 30.
The legislation also tolls all deadlines for service of pleadings that expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020. There is no explanation as to how this provision should be enforced or interpreted, stating only that “[t]he time within which a party must be served” is tolled if it is to occur between March 9 and July 30.
HB 197 also contains a catch-all provision. It states that “[a]ny other criminal, civil, or administrative time limitation or deadline under the Revised Code” is tolled if it is to occur between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020. The law does not outline or explain how this catch-all provision is to apply to specific deadlines in specific cases, so specialized attention to all open matters will be required.
Finally, HB 197 provides an expiration date for these tolling provisions: “on the date the period of emergency ends or July 30, 2020, whichever is sooner.” For parties to litigation who are planning discovery and attempting to accomplish discovery goals in the time frames set by their Judge, this provision does not provide clear guidance. Vigilance will be needed, both to the status of the emergency and to the discovery that needs to be accomplished in a given case. Creative solutions are being found, including different ways of conducting video depositions, and those efforts will be required to continue to be active in pending litigation.
If you would like more information on this or other issues relating to litigation, please contact any of the listed attorneys.
1. The full 350 page bill can be read here: http://search-prod.lis.state.oh.us/solarapi/v1/general_assembly_133/bills/hb197/EN/06?format=pdf.