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We are proud to share with you announcements concerning current legal developments, our recent accomplishments and other news & information that may be of interest to our friends and clients.
Friday
Apr212017

Corrected Commercial Real Property Values Save CWP&G Clients Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Property Taxes

CWP&G Partner Pat Ritzert has obtained corrections to property valuations for several of our clients whose real property was over-valued by Ohio county auditors.  These corrections reduced 2015 property valuations by over $7,827,000 in total, saving our clients more than $540,000 in real property taxes for the tax years 2015 through 2018.

If you have any questions regarding the process to assess and correct your commercial real property valuations, please contact Patricia “Pat” Ritzert at 216-621-8484.

Tuesday
Mar282017

On-line Opinions are Generally not Considered Actionable; However, On-line Defamation Can Result in Substantial Liability

Two recent court of appeals decisions outline the do’s and don’ts of on-line communications. Free expression of opinion is still protected speech. However, publishing defamatory opinions on the internet can result in substantial liability.

On one hand, the Seventh District Court of Appeals, in the case captioned Gentile v. Turkoly, 2017-Ohio-1018, reaffirmed the general principle that the on-line expression of an unfavorable opinion is generally not actionable in a court of law. In this case, Ms. Turkoly hired Dr. Gentile to perform plastic surgery. Suffice it to say, Ms. Turkoly was not satisfied with the surgery.

Following the surgery, Ms. Turkoly successfully sued Dr. Gentile for medical malpractice and also expressed her opinion on the website “vitals.com.” In her review, she stated, among other things, that “he mislead me in the consultation” and that the readers should “Stay away for this Unscrupulous Dr.” Apparently, at least one reader did stay away from Dr. Gentile and cancelled a previously scheduled appointment.

Dr. Gentile then sued Ms. Turkoly for interference with contract and business relations. After the trial court granted Ms. Turkoly a directed verdict at trial, Dr. Gentile took an appeal. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that Dr. Gentile failed to state a claim for interference with business relations for many reasons. Among those reasons given was the general principle of law that the expression of an opinion is not actionable.

The District Court stated that Dr. Gentile was required to prove Ms. Turkoly “knew [the statements] were false or acted with reckless disregard of whether they were true or false.” Merely communicating a good faith opinion to another person does not rise to the level of tortious interference. Indeed, the Ohio Supreme Court has recognized that expressions of opinion are generally protected under the Ohio Constitution. In determining whether speech is a protected opinion, a court must consider the totality of the circumstances. The court must consider “the specific language at issue, whether the statement is verifiable must be considered, the general context of the statement, and the broader context in which the statement appeared.”

On the other hand, the Sixth District Court of Appeals, in the case captioned Forinash v. Weber, 2017-Ohio-107, reaffirmed the general principle of law that in a defamation per se case, damages are presumed. In this case, Forinash filed a complaint with the trial court, stemming from a written post Weber published on her Facebook profile, in which she stated that Forinash was “hooked on porn [and] watches dirty movies with teenage girls.” This statement was determined to be false and defamatory per se. Following a court trial, Forinash was awarded the amount of $100 in nominal damages, $500 in punitive damages, along with $22,000 in attorney fees. The trial court reasoned that the post was most likely read only in Sandusky County, Ohio. The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed, reasoning “[t]he record contains no competent and credible evidence to support the court’s finding that appellee’s defamatory statements were only viewed by residents of Sandusky County. Further, it would defy reality to conclude that a post on a social networking internet site such as Facebook is in any way limited in its geographic reach.”

In sum, the thoughtful expression of one’s opinion is protected speech but care should be exercised when engaging in on-line communications.

Should you have questions regarding the civil justice system, please feel free to contact David M. Cuppage, Esq. at 216-621-8484.

Monday
Mar272017

CWP&G Partner Stewart "Dan" Roll to Speak at Upcoming Seminar Regarding the Use of Drones

CWP&G is pleased to announce that one of its Partners, Stewart “Dan” Roll will be speaking at a continuing education seminar entitled “Drone Law” on June 23, 2017 being presented by the National Business Institute (“NBI”).  The seminar is being held at the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association facilities at One Cleveland Center, 1375 East 9th Street, Cleveland, Ohio.  Further information regarding the seminar and how to attend are available at the NBI website www.nbi-sems.com.   If you have any questions regarding the latest rules, regulations and case law surrounding the use of drones, please contact Dan Roll at 216-621-8484.      

Tuesday
Mar212017

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Workplace Harassment

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently issued a proposed 75 page enforcement guidance on unlawful workplace harassment. The proposed guidance document explains the legal standards applicable to claims of unlawful harassment under federal employment discrimination laws.

When it is issued in final, this proposed sub-regulatory document will supersede four prior guidance documents issued by the EEOC. The proposed guidance document is intended to communicate the Commission’s position on important legal issues. The guidance document will also provide valuable insight on the state of federal discrimination and unlawful workplace harassment law.

The laws enforced by the EEOC protect individuals from harassment based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual stereotyping, pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age or genetic information. Harassment is covered by the EEO laws only if it is based on an employee’s legally protected personal characteristics. Federal EEO law is violated if the evidence establishes that the complainant was subjected to harassment creating a hostile work environment because of his or her protected characteristic. For an employer to be liable under an EEO statute for workplace harassment based on a protected trait, the harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect a “term, condition, or privilege” of employment. Two examples of unlawful harassment are: (1) an explicit change to the terms or conditions of employment that is linked to harassment based on a protected characteristic, e.g., firing an employee because she rejected sexual advances, and (2) conduct that constructively changes the terms or conditions of employment through creation of a hostile work environment. Thus, harassment based on a protected characteristic is actionable when the employee is subjected to “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” that is severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively and subjectively hostile work environment.

As many employers recognize, adopting proactive measures helps to prevent harassment from occurring. The EEOC identifies five core principles that have generally proven effective in preventing and addressing harassment: committed and engaged leadership; consistent and demonstrated accountability; strong and comprehensive harassment policies; trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.

The cornerstone of a successful harassment prevention strategy is the consistent and demonstrated commitment of senior leaders to create and maintain a culture of respect in which harassment is not tolerated. A comprehensive, clear harassment policy that is regularly communicated to all employees is essential.

As discussed by the EEOC, an effective harassment complaint system welcomes questions, concerns, and complaints; encourages employees to report potentially problematic conduct early; treats alleged victims, complainants, witnesses, alleged harassers, and others with respect; operates promptly, thoroughly, and impartially; and imposes appropriate consequences for harassment or related misconduct, such as retaliation. Regular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees will ensure that the workforce understands organizational rules, policies, procedures, and expectations, as well as the consequences of misconduct.

A well drafted, thoughtfully communicated, and properly updated harassment prevention policy will help to ensure that the workplace is free from harassment and discrimination to the benefit of employers and employees.

Should you have questions regarding unlawful harassment, workplace investigations, retaliation, or work place policies, please feel free to contact David M. Cuppage, Esq. at 216-621-8484.

Wednesday
Dec282016

CWP&G Recognized by City of Parma’s Treasurer for Assisting City with Saving Almost $1.4 Million Over the Past Five Years

In a recent Cleveland.com article, the City of Parma’s Treasurer, Tom Mastroianni, announced how the City has saved almost $1.4 million since 2011 by refunding City bonds to obtain better rates.  In the article, Mr. Mastroianni, acknowledged the City's bond counsel CWP&G for their assistance and legal counsel in the ongoing process of saving City residents money.  A copy of the article can be found at http://www.cleveland.com/parma/index.ssf/2016/12/parma_treasurer_announces_savi.html.  If you have any questions regarding this article or you would like to discuss our municipal finance practice, please call Dennis R. Wilcox or Patricia M. Ritzert at 216-621-8484.