The Ohio Supreme Court issued three notable decisions last week in a flurry of activity after a few weeks of relative quiet. A divided court ruled on:
Whetstone v. Binner, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-1006. (4-3) Chief Justice O'Connor wrote for the majority, finding that punitive damages can be assessed against the estate of a person who died after they were found liable, but before the court could award the damages. The court emphasized that the purpose of punitive damages is to both punish the offender and deter others from acting in the same way. It was also significant to the court that the defendant had been alive when she was found legally responsible because that triggered the ability of the plaintiffs to obtain punitive damages.
State v. Broom, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-1028. (4-3) Justice Lanzinger wrote the majority opinion, finding that a second execution attempt in the case of Romell Broom would not amount to constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment or double jeopardy. During an execution attempt in 2009, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction had been unable to find an appropriate vein for the lethal injection, despite repeated and apparently painful attempts. The court held that carrying out his execution would not violate provisions against double jeopardy because an execution does not begin until lethal drugs are administered, and the ODRC never got to that point since they could not successfully get the catheter in. The court also held that the pain Broom experienced during the first execution does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment, and that he hasn't proven that a second attempt would cause severe enough pain to be unconstitutional. The court emphasized that new protocols have been put into place to prevent such situations.
Haight v. Minchak, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-1053. (4-3) Justice Lanzinger penned the opinion, finding that outside sales employees are not entitled to minimum wage compensation under Ohio law. The court reasoned that both the minimum wage statute and Ohio Constitution incorporate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which specifically exempts outside sales employees from the minimum wage. Two outside sales employees had argued that the Ohio law exempting them from minimum wage requirements violates an amendment to the Ohio Constitution which only listed five types of employees as exempt from the minimum wage. The court found that because both the amendment and the statute incorporate the FLSA, the exemption for outside sales workers was permissible, even though they were not listed among the exempted groups in the amendment.