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9th District reverses Lorain class action sewer suit

TRACEY BLAIR
Legal News Reporter

Published: February 10, 2020

The city of Lorain recently was granted a legal victory in a case challenging the city’s sanitary sewer rates and fees imposed on non-residents.
The 9th District Court of Appeals recently reversed a Lorain County trial court’s judgment granting class certification to the plaintiffs.
Christine Winrod and Lynda Ashley filed a lawsuit on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, moving for class certification under Civil Rules 23(A) and 23(B)(3), requesting that the trial court certify the following class and subclass:
• All ratepayers who were charged sanitary sewer rates for premises located outside the Lorain city limits pursuant to Lorain Codified Ordinance 913.305 since May 7, 2012.
• All ratepayers who were charged sanitary sewer rates for premises located in the Hidden Valley subdivision in Amherst Township, Ohio pursuant to Lorain Codified Ordinance 913.305 since May 7, 2012.
On appeal, the city argued the trial court erred in granting the motion for class certification by a preponderance of the evidence.
In her 3-0 opinion, 9th District Judge Jennifer Hensal noted there are seven prerequisites to class certification, four of which are provided in Rule 23(A) as follows:
(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 defenses of the class, [and] (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
In its merit brief, the city claimed the plaintiffs submitted no evidence to satisfy the membership, numerosity, and adequacy prerequisites, and that their other evidence failed for lack of an identifiable class. It also argued that the trial court failed to conduct a rigorous analysis into whether plaintiffs satisfied the class-certification prerequisites, and that the plaintiffs’ evidence relative to the other prerequisites failed for lack of an identifiable class.
It also argued that the trial court failed to conduct a rigorous analysis into whether plaintiffs satisfied the class-certification prerequisites, and that its failure is evidenced – in part – by the fact that the trial court appointed a deceased person after the plaintiffs filed their motion for class certification (but before the trial court ruled on it) as a class representative.
Hensal noted that although the Ohio Supreme Court has recognized that ‘there is no explicit requirement in Civ.R. 23 that the trial court make formal findings to support its decision on a motion for class certification[,]’ it has stated that: the failure to provide an articulated rationale greatly hampers an appellate inquiry into whether the relevant Civ.R. 23 factors were properly applied by the trial court and given appropriate weight.
“While the trial court’s failure to explicitly address the membership requirement may not amount to an abuse of discretion, its failure to do so, combined with its naming of a deceased person as a class representative and the fact that the city specifically challenged whether plaintiffs established that they were members of the putative class, suggests that the trial court failed to conduct a rigorous analysis into whether plaintiffs satisfied the prerequisites of class certification,” Hensal added. “ As a result, this court concludes that the trial court abused its discretion when it granted plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.”
Ninth District judges Thomas Teodosio and Lynne Callahan concurred. The case is cited Winrod v. Lorain, 2020-Ohio-157.


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