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Berube v. Richardson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

April 13, 2017

JUDY BERUBE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
MATTHEW RICHARDSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE

         Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-15-841395.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Andrew S. Pollis Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center ALSO LISTED Marvin De Leon Santiago Riech Legal Interns Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center

          FOR APPELLEE Matthew Richardson, pro se d.b.a. Tazmainian Repair, Inc.

          BEFORE: McCormack, J., Keough, A.J., and E.A. Gallagher, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          TIM McCORMACK, JUDGE

         {¶1} Plaintiff-appellant Judy Berube appeals from the trial court's award of punitive damages in connection with the court's granting of Berube's motion for default judgment against the defendant, Matthew Richardson. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

         Procedural History and Substantive Facts

         {¶2} On March 4, 2015, Berube filed a complaint against Matthew Richardson, d.b.a. Tazmainian Repair, Inc., alleging violations of Ohio's Consumer Sales Protection Act ("CSPA"), breach of contract, breach of warranty, failure to perform in a workmanlike manner, civil action for damages, and negligence. Berube's complaint stems from Berube contracting with Richardson to make repairs to her home. Berube claims that Richardson failed to make the repairs for which he was hired, damaged her home, stalked her daughter, and engaged in certain misconduct while purportedly working on her home. Berube sought compensatory damages, treble damages, attorney fees and costs, and punitive damages. Berube's complaint also included a jury demand.

         {¶3} Richardson failed to answer the complaint or otherwise appear in the action, and Berube moved for default judgment under Civ.R. 55. In her motion, Berube also requested a jury trial on the issue of damages. The trial court granted Berube's motion for default judgment, yet it denied her request for a jury trial and scheduled a hearing on damages. In denying her request for a jury trial, the trial court determined that Berube "availed herself of the summary procedure" of a default judgment under Civ.R. 55 and therefore "subject[ed] herself to the requirements of [Civ.R. 55], which gives the court discretion to either conduct a hearing on damages or allow Plaintiff to present the issue of damages to a jury for determination."

         {¶4} On April 20, 2016, the court conducted a hearing on damages. At the hearing, Berube testified concerning the contract she entered with Richardson and the damages that she incurred. Thereafter, the court issued an order awarding Berube total damages in the amount of $70, 376. In its order, the court stated that Berube established sufficient evidence of actual damages in the amount of $15, 000. Having found that Berube established a violation of the CSPA, the court determined that she was therefore entitled to $45, 000 treble damages. The court also found Berube established sufficient evidence of mental anguish and awarded her $5, 000 in non-economic damages under the CSPA.

         {¶5} Additionally, the court found that an award of punitive damages were warranted, as the defendant's actions were "egregious." However, finding that the defendant did not appear in the litigation, the court determined that there was "little evidence of what degree of sanction would punish or deter him from similar action in the future." The court therefore found that the general aim of deterring the defendant from the actions that caused physical damage to the plaintiffs house and caused the plaintiffs mental anguish was sufficiently addressed by the treble damages awarded under the CSPA, and it awarded the nominal amount of $1 in punitive damages.

         {¶6} Finally, in considering the plaintiffs request for attorney fees, the court noted that despite the fact that this was a default judgment hearing on damages, Berube and her counsel "spent considerable time and effort" in obtaining the proper service on the defendant and in researching the issues and presenting the evidence to the court for determination. Having found that Richardson knowingly committed actions that were in violation of the CSPA, the court awarded Berube $20, 375 in attorney fees.

         {¶7} Berube now appeals the judgment of the trial court, alleging that the court erred in rejecting her demand for a jury trial on damages. In the alternative, Berube claims that the trial court's award of $1 in ...


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