Major Court Development: Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Institutes Commercial Docket

March 30, 2024

What Cincinnati Commercial Litigation Attorneys Need to Know about Hamilton County’s Commercial Docket

Effective April 1, 2024, commercial litigation cases in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas will be assigned to a specialized Commercial Docket. This is truly excellent news for Ohioans, businesses and Cincinnati commercial litigation attorneys alike, as it will streamline commercial litigation in Hamilton County and increase uniformity and predictability.

As a Cincinnati commercial litigation firm, the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas is the state court in which Durst Kerridge’s attorneys practice most. We have advocated for re-establishing a commercial docket for quite some time.

At the Fall 2023 meeting of the American Bar Association Business Law Section in Chicago, I attended a meeting of the Business Courts subcommittee, comprised of state court Judges from around the country who oversee commercial dockets, in Delaware, Tennessee, Rhode Island, New York, Indiana, California, and many other states. A Brooklyn, New York Judge related a story about a discovery dispute in a case involving a request for Quickbooks data. She was so well-versed in Quickbooks that she was able to drill down the issues and issue an appropriate ruling right away. Undoubtedly, a non-commercial-docket Judge would have taken far longer to understand and resolve the dispute.

Speaking with commercial litigators at the conference from states like Delaware made me jealous that we did not have a commercial docket in Hamilton County. But now we do!

Overview of Hamilton County’s Commercial Docket

The Commercial Docket will be governed by Rule 48 of the Local Rules of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and Rules 49 through 49.12 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio, and includes the following features:

Designated Judges: A minimum of two judges, selected by majority vote, will handle the Commercial Docket. Each designated Commercial Docket judge will serve a term of no less than three years. Cases assigned to a Commercial Docket judge will remain on that judge’s docket even after their term expires.

Adjustments to Case Assignment: To ensure a fair distribution of work and maintain focus on commercial cases, for every Commercial Docket case assigned, a similar non-commercial civil case will be re-assigned by lot.

Reduced Criminal Caseload: Commercial Docket judges will not be assigned any fourth or fifth-degree felony cases.

Durst Kerridge is well-positioned to navigate the new landscape in Hamilton County, Ohio commercial litigation. We are heavily involved in the Cincinnati Bar Association and Ohio legal community generally, and we regularly represent clients in commercial litigation matters in the greater Cincinnati area and throughout the state.

Hamilton County’s Commercial Docket Q&A

When does the Commercial Docket begin? April 1, 2024. As of press time, Local Rule 48 currently states that the Commercial Docket is “effective November 1, 2023.” The day prior, the Rule stated that it would begin March 1, 2024. We are informed that the true “start date” is April 1, 2024.

Which Judges will serve as the Commercial Docket Judges? We are informed that Judge Christian A. Jenkins and Judge Jennifer L. Branch will oversee the Commercial Docket.

Both are highly qualified. Prior to taking the bench, Judge Jenkins served for many years as Managing Partner of a Cincinnati law firm, where he was known for handling an extensive array of Ohio civil litigation matters encompassing a great deal of commercial and complex civil litigation, while Judge Branch was well-known as a high-powered civil rights attorney who handled often high profile matters in state and federal court.

Durst Kerridge has handled a considerable number of commercial litigation cases before both Judge Jenkins and Judge Branch. We are familiar with their standing orders and Chambers practices.

What rules govern the Commercial Docket? In Ohio, Commercial Dockets are authorized under and governed by Rules 49 through 49.12 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio. Hamilton County’s new Commercial Docket is also governed by Rule 48 of the Court’s Local Rules.

What Hamilton County cases are eligible for the Commercial Docket? Short Answer: Eligible cases include disputes related to the formation, governance, dissolution, or liquidation of business entities; rights or obligations among business owners; trade secrets; employment agreements with business part-owners; and various other commercial transactions and disputes, as outlined in Sup.R. 49.05.

Long Answer: The bulk of the cases Durst Kerridge handles are eligible for the Commercial Docket. Eligible cases are listed in Sup.R. 49.05 and include:

Business Formation and Dissolution: Cases that deal with the creation, operation, winding down, or dissolving of any business entity.

Internal Business Disputes: Issues involving disputes among business owners, partners, shareholders, or members regarding their rights, obligations, and responsibilities toward each other and the entity.

Trade Secrets and Employment Agreements: Disputes concerning trade secrets, non-disclosure, non-compete clauses, or employment agreements between businesses and their owners or employees.

Governance Disputes: Cases related to the rights, obligations, liability, or indemnity of individuals in managerial or leadership positions within a business entity.

Commercial Transactions and Business Relationships: This includes:

  • Transactions governed by the Uniform Commercial Code (excluding consumer product liability claims).
  • Issues involving intellectual property rights like patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets.
  • The purchase, sale, lease, or license of business entities or their assets.
  • Sales of goods or services between business entities.
  • Non-consumer banking and brokerage accounts, including loans and investment accounts.
  • Surety bonds and guarantee obligations linked to business transactions.
  • Transactions involving commercial real or personal property.
  • Franchise or dealer relationships.
  • Business-related torts, including unfair competition, false advertising, fraud, or interference with contracts.
  • Antitrust and securities law disputes.
  • Commercial insurance contract disputes.

What cases are not eligible for the Commercial Docket? Under Sup.R. 49.06, all cases not included within the defined commercial litigation matters set forth in Sup.R. 49.05 are ineligible. The following are also ineligible: cases where labor organizations or governmental entities are more than nominal parties; personal injury, wrongful death, and consumer claims, including product liability suits and cases brought under Ohio’s CSPA and other consumer protection laws; disputes concerning wages, occupational safety, workers’ or unemployment compensation; environmental claims not tied to business contracts; eminent domain matters; Employment Law cases, except certain owner-related disputes; discrimination claims; administrative, tax, zoning appeals; matters traditionally handled by domestic relations, juvenile, or probate courts (or required to be heard in other courts or divisions); individual residential real estate disputes; non-commercial landlord-tenant disputes, and criminal matters, with the exception of criminal contempt related to commercial docket cases.

How are cases assigned to the Commercial Docket? We are told that the Court will establish a mechanism to ensure that eligible cases filed after April 1, 2024 are assigned to the Commercial Docket upon filing, but that process is not yet established as of press time. Hamilton County’s Classification Form (similar to the federal Civil Cover Sheet) has not yet been amended to include a specific indication to request assignment to the Commercial Docket.

For pending cases, Local Rule 48(E)(1)(a) supplies a procedure for requesting reassignment to the commercial docket. The assigned (non-Commercial Docket) Judge can sua sponte request transfer, and any party can file a motion for transfer, which the assigned Judge must rule on within two days.

After a Judge rules on a transfer request, any party may appeal to the Administrative Judge, who is required to decide the appeal within three days. Any party can then appeal the assigned Judge’s decision to the Administrative Judge, who must decide the appeal within two days. Similarly, in the event of a sua sponte transfer request, Local Rule 48(E)(1)(b) requires the Administrative Judge to rule on the request within two days. Such requests and appeals are to be decided based on the criteria set forth in Sup.R. 49.05 and 49.06. The Administrative Judge’s ultimate decision is final and cannot be appealed.

Will commercial cases involving temporary restraining orders (TROs) and preliminary injunctions be assigned to the Equity Judge or Commercial Docket? Will the TRO/PI be decided by the Equity Judge, only for the case to be subsequently transferred to the Commercial Docket? These rules have not yet been published.

Are there any special rules for out-of-state attorneys seeking to appear pro hac vice in Hamilton County, Ohio cases assigned to the Commercial Docket? No – pro hac vice requirements are the same as in other Ohio civil litigation matters. Durst Kerridge frequently serves as Ohio local counsel in commercial litigation cases across Ohio and easily navigates the pro hac vice process.

When retained as Ohio local counsel, we get our out-of-state colleagues admitted absolutely as fast as the rules allow. Out of state attorneys must register for pro hac vice admission online, pay the required fee, complete a form affidavit and have it notarized in person with a notary stamp or seal and mail the original to the Supreme Court of Ohio. After completing these steps, a Certificate of Pro Hac Vice Registration is issued. With the Certificate of Ohio PHV Registration in hand, we submit the necessary motion for pro hac vice admission which is typically granted right away.

Do you need local counsel to appear pro hac vice in cases pending before the Commercial Docket of the Hamilton County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas? Yes – again, pro hac vice practice before the Commercial Docket is the same in all respects as in other Ohio civil cases in state court.

About Durst Kerridge

Durst Kerridge represents clients in state and federal court litigation and arbitration across Ohio. To schedule a consultation, call Durst Kerridge today at (513) 621-4999 or reach out to Alex J. Durst or Paul R. Kerridge.

Alex J. Durst

Alex J. Durst is a civil trial attorney with over a decade of experience handling commercial and complex civil litigation matters on behalf of clients across a wide range of industries, with an emphasis on financial services litigation and high-dollar-value breach of contract claims.
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