Ohio's civil theft statute, found in the Ohio Revised Code Section 2307.61, empowers plaintiffs to pursue money damages from those allegedly committing theft or damaging property of the plaintiff. The statute uses the relevant definitions, including those of "theft offenses," found in Ohio Revised Code Section 2913.01 governing criminal theft and fraud charges.
Statute of Limitations
Judge J. Ann Dyke of the Ohio Court of Appeals wrote in her dissenting opinion in Gray v. Newman that actions taken under the Ohio civil theft statute are subject to a one-year statute of limitations found in Ohio Revised Code Section 2305.11(A). Judge Dyke reasoned that the one-year statute applies to civil statutes that contain their own penalties, such as the theft statute.
The majority did not rule on the statute of limitations issue because it was not raised by the parties, but still found "substantial evidence" that the action would be barred by the statute of limitations.
As Judge Dyke mentioned in her opinion, the Ohio civil theft statute contains penalties that plaintiffs can obtain against defendants in addition to compensation for the actual theft. Section (A)(1)(b)(ii) allows plaintiffs to obtain damages of three times the value of the property at the time it was willfully damaged or was the subject of a theft offense. The plaintiff can receive these triple damages even if the plaintiff later retrieved the stolen item and can resell it at full market price.
Required Notice for Recovery of Costs
Plaintiffs can also seek reimbursement against defendants for administrative costs, court costs and reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to section (A)(2) if they follow statutory guidelines for noticing the defendant before filing suit.
Plaintiffs must make a written demand for payment against the potential defendant. Plaintiffs must send such notices by certified mail and must include all of the warnings found in section (C) of the theft statute. If the potential defendant does not respond within 30 days to settle the matter, the injured party may seek costs at trial.
The theft statute includes protections for defendants. Section (C)(5) provides that defendants who prevail at trial may recover from a plaintiff reasonable attorney's fees, costs of defending the action and any compensatory damages that the defendant can prove to a court. This provision ensures that any defendant facing a claim for attorney's fees may likewise present such a claim, raising the economic stakes for parties intent on taking civil theft cases to trial.
E.S. Martin is an attorney who has worked in civil litigation for more than eight years. He focuses his work in insurance, personal injury, subrogation and risk management.