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Kavanagh v. Caruthers

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Jefferson

December 22, 2017

STANLEY KAVANAGH, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
JERRON W. CARUTHERS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

         Civil Appeal from Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County, Ohio Case No. 12 CV 509

          For Plaintiffs-Appellees Attorney Mark A. Colantonio Attorney Kevin M. Pearl

          For Defendants-Appellants Attorney Holly Marie Wilson, Attorney Kelly Johns

          JUDGES: Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Mary DeGenaro

          OPINION

          DONOFRIO, J.

         {¶1} Defendants-appellants, Jerron Caruthers and Butler Transport, Inc., appeal from a Jefferson County Common Pleas Court judgment certifying a class in the class action complaint filed by plaintiffs-appellees, Stanley Kavanaugh, Amy Kavanaugh, Stanley Cottis, Anna Cottis, and Route 22 Pizza, LLC.

         {¶2} On October 3, 2012, appellees filed a class action complaint alleging that on September 28, 2012, appellant Jerron Caruthers was operating a tractor trailer that struck a "guy wire" resulting in a loss of electricity to the homes and businesses of customers of American Electric Power (AEP). The complaint further alleged that at the time, Caruthers was acting within the scope of his employment with appellant Butler Transport, Inc. (Butler). The complaint asserted that appellees and the proposed class members suffered inconvenience, loss of business, and financial injury. The complaint identified the proposed class as all of those individuals and businesses that lost power on September 28, 2012, as a result of power outages caused by appellants.

         {¶3} The matter was removed to federal court for some time but was eventually returned to the trial court.

         {¶4} On January 21, 2016, appellees filed a motion for class certification. The motion stated that 1, 563 AEP customers in Jefferson County lost power due to the alleged negligence of appellants.

         {¶5} The trial court held a hearing on appellees' motion for class certification where it heard arguments from all parties. The court subsequently issued a judgment entry certifying the proposed class. In so doing, the court found that the class was so numerous that a joinder of all members is impracticable, that there are questions of law or fact common to the class, that the claims of the representative parties are typical of the claims of the class, and that the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class. Further, the court found that common questions of law and fact predominated over questions affecting only individual class members and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.

         {¶6} Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal on June 29, 2016. They now raise a single assignment of error for our review.

         {¶7} Appellants' assignment of error states:

THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN CERTIFYING A CLASS WHERE THE PLAINTIFFS FAILED TO SATISFY BOTH THE EXPLICIT AND IMPLICIT REQUIREMENTS OF CIV.R. 23.

         {¶8} A trial court has broad discretion in determining whether a class action may be maintained. Baughman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 88 Ohio St.3d 480, 483, 2000-Ohio-397, 727 N.E.2d 1265. The abuse-of-discretion standard of review applies here due to the trial court's special expertise and familiarity with case-management problems and its inherent power to manage its own docket. Hamilton v. Ohio Sav. Bank, 82 Ohio St.3d 67, 70, 1998-Ohio-365, 694 N.E.2d 442. Therefore, an appellate court will not disturb the trial court's determination absent an abuse of discretion. Id. Abuse of discretion is more than an error of law or judgment; instead it is a finding that the trial court's attitude is unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable. Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219, 450 N.E.2d 1140 (1983).

         {¶9} Civ.R. 23 governs class actions. Civ.R. 23(A) contains four requirements for a class member to bring a class action:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable,
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class,
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or ...

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