Ohio Legislators Challenge Governor’s Veto on Limits for Fraud Damages

March 2, 2007

Republican lawmakers had no legal authority to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to throw out a veto Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland carried out on his first day in office, the state’s top lawyer said this week.

Attorney General Marc Dann filed a request to dismiss the lawsuit, which he called an extraordinary attempt by the GOP-controlled Legislature to draw the state’s highest court into a political dispute.

The lawsuit “threatens the values of separation of powers and judicial restraint,” said Dann, a Democrat who, along with Strickland, took office in January.

Senate President Bill Harris and House Speaker Jon Husted argue that Strickland’s veto of a wide-ranging bill placing limits on consumer fraud lawsuits is invalid because the bill was adopted in December during the last legislative session. The bill would place a $5,000 limit on certain court damages and create new protections for companies that once sold paint with lead in it.

Strickland and his legal advisers contend that he was able to veto the bill because former Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, had decided to let it become law without signing it and a deadline for it to become law had not yet passed.

In their lawsuit, Republican legislative leaders say the 10-day countdown for the bill to become law without Taft’s signature passed before Strickland was inaugurated. They lay the legal blame for the dispute with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, saying she violated her constitutional duties by sending it back to Strickland’s office instead of recording the bill and making it part of state law.

Brunner, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had no constitutional authority to deny the governor’s request, Dann said.

Dann also said Republican leaders have no legal right _ called standing _ to sue on behalf of the legislators who decided the bill before they adjourned on Dec. 26. A new session, with new lawmakers, began in January.

The new Legislature has no legal claim over a bill it did not pass, Dann said.

Republicans also are trying to usurp the court system by filing their complaint directly with the Supreme Court instead of first seeking a lower court ruling, Dann said.

“We think we have better legal arguments, and we’ll find out when the case goes to court,” said Karen Tabor, a spokeswoman for the House speaker.

Republican leaders have 10 days to file a response with the court.

The bill said paint manufacturers can’t be sued under public nuisances laws, which some U.S. cities have used to try to force companies to help pay for the removal of lead-based paint in older homes. The federal government banned lead paint in 1978 after studies showed that children who eat or breathe flaking paint or dust could suffer potentially severe health problems, including brain damage.

A provision in the bill also capped a consumer’s non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, mental distress and emotional distress, at $5,000. The provision was aimed at consumers who sue any kind of company for unfair or deceptive sales practices.

A coalition of business groups, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association,supported the bill.

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