On January 2, 2009, Ohio officially launched its specialized commercial docket. This specialized commercial docket, or "business court" as they are sometimes commonly referred to in other states, is an outgrowth of the specialized court dockets used in Ohio for drug, mental health and asbestos cases. The commercial dockets are part of a four-year pilot program to handle complex business litigation in select Ohio counties.

The creation of specialized commercial dockets is expected to benefit Ohio's business climate by both expediting the resolution of business disputes and boosting business litigants' confidence that their disputes will be resolved fairly in Ohio courts. The enhanced predictability gained through an expanded body of commercial law precedent and the specialized expertise gained by commercial docket judges are each expected to contribute to this increased confidence by business litigants. Given these potential benefits, at least sixteen other states have similarly authorized specialized commercial dockets.

The "business courts" will operate under temporary rules and Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer will designate one or more sitting common pleas judges in each participating court to act as judges for the specialized dockets. Initially, judges in Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Cuyahoga and Montgomery counties will participate in the program. In Franklin County, Common Pleas Court Judges John P. Bessey and Richard A. Frye have been designated as the first judges to handle the new commercial docket. Judges assigned to a commercial docket are required to complete an orientation and training seminar provided by the Ohio Judicial College. Once appointed and trained, commercial docket judges will be assigned to a variety of civil cases involving business disputes, including:

  • Business formation and dissolution
  • Rights or obligations among partners or shareholders
  • Trade secrets
  • Partner, officer or director liability, and
  • Contract disputes among business entities.

Commercial docket judges, however, will not accept civil cases relating to such cases as:

  • Personal injury or wrongful death matters
  • Consumer claims against business entities or insurers
  • Wage, hour or workers' compensation disputes
  • Environmental claims (except as between business entities) or matters in eminent domain
  • Employment law cases (except as between a business entity and an owner)
  • Cases in which a labor organization or governmental entity is a party
  • Discrimination cases or administrative agency appeals
  • Individual residential real estate disputes, foreclosure or petition actions, and
  • Any domestic, juvenile, probate, municipal or criminal matter.

The program provides an incentive for new business to incorporate or organize under the laws of Ohio. Historically, the state of Delaware has been a magnet for new business, and one reason for such a draw was its Chancery Court. Additionally, Chicago, Manhattan and North Carolina have successfully run business courts for more than a decade and Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Boston and Pittsburgh have also instituted business courts in some form. More recently Maine and South Carolina have implemented specialized business dockets.

The unknown and unpredictable nature of complex commercial litigation can be stressful enough for business owners. With the new commercial docket, businesses involved in legal disputes in Ohio can now take comfort in knowing that such matters will be under the watchful eye of judges familiar with technical corporate governance issues, shareholder and other ownership rights of individuals, intellectual property, and knowledge of sophisticated financial transactions.