Ohio's Reform Efforts Continue with Discovery Rule Amendments and Case Management Pilot Projects
For the second year in a row, Ohio is on track to make significant amendments to its Rules of Civil Procedure and to pilot a second civil justice case management reform project.
Ohio’s rule amendments parallel the 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but also align with national recommendations for reform, including the 2016 Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) Civil Justice Initiative recommendations. The state’s rule amendments and pilot projects also reflect similar reforms made in Idaho, Maine, Missouri, and Texas as part of the CCJ recommendations’ implementation phase—as examined in our recent report, The Road to Civil Justice Reform. Ohio follows common reform themes including mandatory initial disclosures, consistent case management, and discovery that is proportional to the needs of the case.
Civil Rule Changes
In 2019, the Supreme Court of Ohio amended Rule 6 of its Rules of Civil Procedure, which streamlined deadlines in state courts. The amended rule established statewide uniform deadlines for civil motions, superseding various local courts’ deadlines and creating consistency across jurisdictions.
Effective July 1, 2020, significant changes to Rules 16 and 26 include the adoption of proportionality into the scope of discovery, requiring automatic initial disclosures, and mandating court-issued schedule orders. Although effective July 1, the rule changes have been tolled by COVID-19 until July 30, 2020, by order of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ohio rules now mandate initial disclosures to accelerate the exchange of information earlier in the case. The new rule amendments require the parties to meaningfully confer about the nature of claims and any defenses and the possibility of settlement, as well as to discuss discovery issues before developing and filing a discovery plan. The new rules also contemplate greater judicial involvement with court-issued scheduling orders. The parties filing discovery plans will have greater input into scheduling orders; however, Ohio courts are ultimately responsible for issuing scheduling orders. If no party has filed a discovery plan, courts will issue a scheduling order sua sponte.
Ohio’s Rule 26 incorporates proportionality with almost identical federal language, recognizing that electronically stored information has become increasingly common. Ohio has also amended rules for expert witness disclosures by requiring, for the first time, that experts expected to testify provide a written report for the bases of their opinions, potentially alleviating the need for expert witness depositions—and therefore potentially decreasing litigation costs. Ohio’s new rules promote best practices for consistency, transparency, and predictability while maintaining forward momentum in cases.
Case Management Pilots
Ohio’s Advisory Committee on Case Management (ACCM), established in 2011, provides ongoing advice to the supreme court and its staff on uniform standards for case management and statistical reporting in Ohio courts, develops and delivers case management services to Ohio courts (including training programs for judges and court personnel), and considers any other issues the advisory committee deems necessary to improve case management in Ohio courts. In March 2018, ACCM created a subcommittee based on its Civil Justice Initiative Pilot Project, intending to streamline civil case processes with two pilot courts—one rural and one urban—to assess case management processes.
In 2019, the first pilot project launched at the Chardon Municipal Courthouse, starting with a landscape study of the court’s civil cases in an effort to optimize case processing and case management. The review identified key performance indicators for clearance rates, overage rates, time to disposition, and the number of event settings, among other data sets. The review also measured processing times between key events, the proportion of parties who are represented by counsel, and the effects of representation on the time to disposition and the number of settings.
The second pilot project with Judge Richard Frye of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court will conduct the same landscape of civil caseloads in 2020. The local rules specify caseflow management expectations and case tracks with specific resolution time frames. The rules also focus on triaging and automated caseflow management to achieve right-sized case management consistent with the Civil Justice Initiative recommendations.