A Tail Is Not a Leg: Statutory Interpretation Games at the Ohio Supreme Court

Author: Colin P. Pool*

It is often said that Abraham Lincoln, “faced with some thorny issue that could be settled by a twist of language,” would ask his questioner how many legs a dog would have if you called its tail a leg. “Five,” the questioner responds. “No,” Lincoln answers. “Calling a dog’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”[1] In a recent decision, Hauser v. Dayton Police Department,[2] the Ohio Supreme Court effectively “called a tail a leg,” and held that an employment discrimination statute that imposes liability on “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer” did not, in fact, impose individual liability against public-sector supervisors. In doing so, the Court arbitrarily limited the tort remedies available to public-sector employment discrimination plaintiffs, and showed its willingness to engage in intellectual dishonesty to reach these results.

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The Curious Case of Douglas Prade: How an Appellate Court Reversed a Finding of “Actual Innocence”

Author: Cameron Downer, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law 

On the morning of November 26, 1997, Dr. Margo Prade was brutally murdered in the parking lot of her medical office. At some point during the murder, the assailant bit Margo through her blouse and lab coat. Her husband, Akron Police Captain Douglas Prade, was indicted for the murder. At trial, the key piece of physical evidence was the bite mark. However, the limitations of then-existing DNA technology could only conclusively identify Margo’s own DNA on the bite mark. The remaining evidence at trial was inconclusive. At the end of the trial, Prade was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.[1]

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Ducking Duties: Pseudonymous Plaintiffs and the Supreme Court of Ohio

Author: Ryan Shiverdecker, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review
On March 19, 2013, in Doe v. Bruner, an Ohio appeals court denied the plaintiff, an alleged victim of sexual assault and molestation, his request to proceed anonymously.[i] After initially accepting the plaintiff’s appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed the case as being improvidently granted, balking on an opportunity to provide clarity in an area of law that is murky and unsettled.[ii] Jurisdictions are split on the requirements that an individual must satisfy in order to proceed anonymously. The Supreme Court’s failure to take this case and create a legal standard will result in more disparate holdings in Ohio cases dealing with pseudonymous plaintiffs. The court should have adopted a factor-based test that effectively balances the plaintiff’s privacy rights with the presumption of open judicial proceedings.

No More Horsing Around with the Ohio Revised Code

Author: Chris Tieke, Contributing Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

The Ohio Supreme Court sets a common approach to interpreting statutorily created torts and immunities: Smith v. Landfair, Horvath v. Ish, and Houdek v. ThyssenKrupp Materials, N.A., Inc.

Today, state legislatures play an increasingly important role in creating and implementing statutes that define, and sometimes limit, tort liability.  In tension with this increased activism by legislatures is the traditional role of courts in creating common law principles and traditions of recovery for tort claims.  With legislatures willing to become more involved in determining when actions may give rise to civil liability, much of a court’s work has shifted to applying rules of statutory interpretation.  Knowing that a court uses rules of statutory construction to interpret statutes is Law School 101.  More important, however, is to understand which rules the court applies and the manner in which the court applies them to cases when a particular statute is at issue.  The recent Ohio Supreme Court cases of Smith v. Landfair, Horvath v. Ish, and Houdek v. ThyssenKrupp Materials, N.A., Inc. have clarified the Court’s approach to statutory interpretation with regard to statutory torts and immunities. [1]

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