On October 11, 2007, the Ohio Supreme Court held that trial court findings regarding the constitutionality of retroactive application of the prima facie filing requirements for personal-injury asbestos claims, found in R.C. 2307.92, are provisional remedies that constitute final, appealable orders when certain requirements are met. In re Special Docket No. 73958, 2007-Ohio-5268.
H.B. 292 and The Lower Courts' Decisions
The General Assembly enacted H.B. 292, which includes the prima facie filing requirements at issue, to address the overwhelming number of asbestos claims filed in Ohio, especially by claimants who are not sick. H.B. 292 became effective on September 2, 2004. At that time, roughly 39,000 asbestos personal-injury lawsuits were pending in Cuyahoga County. In its decision, the Court highlights the sound basis for the General Assembly's enactment of H.B. 292, expressly noting the purposes underlying the legislation, such as conserving the scarce resources of the defendants so as to permit compensation of cancer victims and others who are physically impaired due to asbestos exposure, while securing the right to similar compensation for those who may suffer impairment in the future.
Ohio Revised Code 2307.92 requires certain asbestos claimants to make a prima facie showing of injury caused by exposure to asbestos before proceeding with their claims. Failure to meet the requirements results in administrative dismissal of the action, but the action is reinstated once the prima facie showing is made.
Particularly relevant to the instant action, R.C. 2307.93(A)(3) provides that the prima facie filing requirements apply retroactively to causes of action arising before September 2, 2004, unless the trial court determines that retroactive application would be unconstitutional.
In the instant case, Appellants -- who are defendants in the roughly 39,000 asbestos personal-injury cases pending in Cuyahoga County -- filed motions to administratively dismiss cases because the claimants failed to meet the prima facie filing requirements of R.C. 2307.92. The trial court held that retrospective application of the prima facie filing requirements was unconstitutional in that it impaired the substantive rights of the plaintiffs.
Appellants appealed the order of the trial court, but the Eighth District Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of a final, appealable order.
The Ohio Supreme Court's Decision
The issue before the Ohio Supreme Court was whether the trial court's order constituted a final, appealable order.
The Court first found that trial court findings under R.C. 2307.93(A)(3) are provisional remedies, as that term is defined in Ohio's final appealable order statute - R.C. 2505.02.
The Court then determined that both conditions required for a provisional remedy to be "final and appealable" - set forth in R.C. 2505.02(B)(4)(a) and (b) - were met. These conditions are: (a) the trial court's order "in effect determines the action with respect to the provisional remedy and prevents a judgment in the action in favor of the appealing party with respect to the provisional remedy" and (b) "the appealing party would not be afforded a meaningful or effective remedy by an appeal following final judgment as to all proceedings, issues, claims, and parties in the action." See R.C. 2505.02(B)(4)(a) and (b).
The Court remanded the case to the court of appeals to review the trial court's decision.
Notably, the Court makes no statement as to the constitutionality of retroactive application of the prima facie filing requirements to pending cases. The issue of whether retroactive application of H.B. 292's prima facie filing requirements is constitutional is squarely before the Court in another case - Ackison v. Anchor Packing, Inc. The Ackison case is scheduled for oral argument on November 28, 2007.
The 7-0 decision was written by Justice O'Donnell, with Justice Pfeifer concurring in the judgment only.