On June 11, 2012, Ohio’s 12th District Appellate Court affirmed a decision by the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas to not award treble damages in an action brought under the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA).   In the case of Nelson v. Pieratt, 2012-Ohio-2568, the Nelson’s entered into a contract with Pieratt for construction of a new house.  After moving into the home, the plaintiff’s filed a complaint claiming breach of contract, negligence and violations under the CSPA.  After proceeding to trial the jury found that Pieratt “materially breached the contract” and the Nelsons were awarded $60,000 for the breach of contract. The jury also found in favor of the plaintiffs for violations of the CSPA and awarded monetary damages in the amount of $20,100 for three out of seven of the claims.  Damages for the other four CSPA violations were not awarded.

In upholding the ruling, the 12th District reiterated that not all breaches of consumer sales agreements are violations of the CSPA.  The court required some indicia of an unfair or deceptive practice to be included with the breach for there to be a violation.  Further, the court also concluded that, while the CSPA does not allow judicial discretion in the awarding of treble damages, the awarding of actual economic damages for a violation of the CSPA does not, in and of itself, meet the burden of R.C. 1345.09(B) for an award of treble damages.

The Nelson’s filed a request for treble damages pursuant to R.C. 1345.09(B) which was denied by the trial court.  The trial court denied treble damages for the first four CSPA violations because the Nelson’s were not awarded actual economic damages by the jury for these violations.  The Court also refused to award treble damages for the last three violations because of the Nelson’s failure to meet the requirements of R.C. 1345.09(B) even though they were awarded $20,100 in damages.

Under the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, a claimant may be entitled to treble damages as permitted under R.C. 1345.09(B) if the violation was declared to be deceptive or unconscionable by a regulation promulgated by the Attorney General or anOhiocourt must have previously determined that the action or practice was deceptive or unconscionable.  Therefore the Nelson’s were not entitled to treble damages for the CSPA violations because they failed to show that the actions committed were previously declared deceptive or unconscionable by Attorney General or an Ohio court.

For the full court opinion on this case, go to: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/12/2012/2012-ohio-2568.pdf

Slovin & Associates Co., LPA is a regional law firm serving clients in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, which provides legal services to commercial and consumer credit grantors. Our client’s needs include commercial litigation, collection of past due accounts, landlord tenant matters, bankruptcy services, and compliance with and litigation involving federal and state consumer laws.

Many thanks to Sonya Gaines for her contributions to this article.  Sonya is a paralegal with Slovin & Associates Co., L.P.A.