Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Cincinnati Asks Court to Declare No ‘Free Bite’ Rule for Dangerous Dogs

Image of a sign that says 'Beware of Dog' on a wood fence

The Court will hear the city of Cincinnati’s claim that an appeals court misinterpreted a revised state law regarding the confinement of dangerous dogs.

Image of a sign that says 'Beware of Dog' on a wood fence

The Court will hear the city of Cincinnati’s claim that an appeals court misinterpreted a revised state law regarding the confinement of dangerous dogs.

The Cincinnati city prosecutor is disputing an interpretation of state law that contends a dog must be designated “dangerous” through a formal process before a local government can seek restitution from a dog owner whose dog has bitten or injured a person or another animal. The prosecutor claims this amounts to a one “free bite” rule, which isn’t what state lawmakers had in mind when they updated the laws governing the confinement of dogs in 2011.

In State v. Jones, the city is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reject a First District Court of Appeals decision requiring the formal designation of a “dangerous dog” before being allowed to charge an owner with a fourth-degree misdemeanor. The city prefers the position recently taken by the Fifth District Court of Appeals, which considered the designation just one option to declare a dog dangerous.

Dog Bites Fellow Apartment Dweller
On May 15, 2016, around 3:30 a.m., Joseph Jones was walking his dog, an American Pit Bull named Prince Bane, near the apartment building where he lived. When Jones spotted a stray female dog that looked similar to his, he took his dog off the leash so the two dogs could interact. Alyssa Rushing, who lived in the same apartment building, took her dog out for a walk around the same time. Rushing and her dog were on the apartment building steps when the two pit bulls began running toward Rushing’s dog.

As Rushing attempted to pick up her dog, Prince Bane grabbed her arm and pulled her down. Jones pulled Prince Bane off Rushing, who received bite wounds to her hands and wrists. Jones acknowledged to the police that Prince Bane was being trained to “never let go” after biting, and that he had stated on his Facebook page that his dog “used to try and smell or bite everybody.”

Owner Charged For Failure to Confine His Dog
Cincinnati charged Jones with failing to confine a dangerous dog. The “dangerous dog” designation elevates the crime for failing to confine a dog from a minor misdemeanor to a fourth-degree misdemeanor. A fourth-degree misdemeanor allowed the city to seek restitution from Jones for the damages caused by his dog. The trial court found Jones guilty, and he appealed to the First District. The First District concluded that Jones couldn’t be convicted of the fourth-degree misdemeanor without Prince Bane first being designated a dangerous dog under R.C. 955.222.

The city says this is the first time the Ohio Supreme Court has considered R.C. Chapter 955 dealing with dangerous dogs since it was amended by the Ohio General Assembly in 2011. The changes included the addition of R.C. 955.222, a formal process for authorities to designate an animal to be a “dangerous dog.” The prosecutor argues that while the process was added, it was meant to be one option, not the exclusive method, for designating a “dangerous dog.”

Requiring the formal designation means only the small amount of dogs that local authorities could declare dangerous would be subjected to the higher penalty. Unless the dog is declared dangerous, the maximum penalty for an owner of dog that bites is $100. Only after that charge, could the city designate the dog as dangerous. This amounts to a “free bite” rule because the owner wouldn’t be subject to restitution until the dog bit again, the city complains.

Jones argues the law states that only a preexisting designation of dangerousness can support the conviction of failure to confine a dangerous dog. Jones contends that Prince Bane isn’t dangerous and without the designation, the law permits only the minor misdemeanor charge.

Oral Argument Details
Along with State v. Jones, the Court will hear three other cases during its Wednesday, May 8, session. It will hear four other cases on Tuesday, May 7. Oral arguments begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at and broadcast live and archived on The Ohio Channel.

Case Previews Published
In addition to the information provided in this article, the Supreme Court’s Office of Public Information today released in-depth previews of the cases.

Tuesday, May 7
When the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) began construction of State Route 16 in the 1960s, it acquired property that created a highly valued intersection at Cherry Valley Road in Granville and the new highway. In the 1990s, a franchiser of Wendy’s restaurants built a store on the northwest corner of the intersection that was very successful. In 2016, with traffic increasing on S.R. 16, ODOT permanently closed the intersection and built a nearby interchange. The move cut off the highway travelers’ direct access to Wendy’s and sales plummeted. The new interchange also cut off direct access to a Speedway service station and Bob Evans Restaurant. The Court dismissed the challenges by Speedway and Bob Evans, but in Speedway LLC v. Ohio Department of Transportation, the Court will consider the Wendy’s claim that it deserves compensation for the state’s “taking” of its property.

A man injured in a 2014 auto accident hired a law firm to represent him in negotiations with the other driver’s insurance company. The contingent-fee agreement stated that the firm would be paid a percentage of any award. A year later, the injured man rejected the insurance company’s settlement offer and fired the law firm. The company made another offer directly to the man, which he accepted. The law firm notified the insurance company of the fee agreement and filed suit against the former client and the company seeking compensation for the legal work. In Kisling, Nestico & Redick v. Progressive Max Insurance Company, the insurance company argues the law firm can’t sue the company for fees not paid by a client.

In re Adoption of A.C.B. involves the state law explaining when a biological parent’s consent isn’t needed for a child’s adoption. Following a dissolution, a court ordered A.C.B.’s father to pay $85 per week in child support. A.C.B.’s mother remarried, and the child’s stepfather later began adoption proceedings in Lucas County. The stepfather stated that A.C.B.’s father’s consent wasn’t required because the father didn’t pay the court-ordered amount of child support in the prior year. The father, who lives in Kosovo, made a $200 payment a few days before the adoption filing. He contends that a biological parent’s right to refuse consent for an adoption is preserved unless there is a complete absence of maintenance and support in the year before the filing.

The state board that handles attorney and judicial discipline recommends that a former Franklin County judge be suspended indefinitely. The board found that the judge in Disciplinary Counsel v. Hon. Timothy S. Horton engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct toward an intern, sexually harassed his staff, misused county resources and staff while running for appeals court, and reported excessive campaign expenses. The judge maintains that the board refused to allow him to introduce evidence that his comments and actions weren’t unwelcome by the women, the recommended sanction is too punitive, his staff’s campaign activities while working for the court were minimal, and his prior alcohol abuse played a significant role.

Wednesday, May 8
In August 2016, a Franklin County man was convicted on seven counts of forgery for cashing counterfeit checks at four different banks. The checks were drawn from the accounts of three different businesses. The man pleaded guilty to the forgery charges, and the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney sought restitution to be paid to the banks. The man objected, arguing the banks were “third parties” and would be reimbursed by insurance. Once the banks confirmed there would be no insurance coverage for the losses, the trial judge ordered restitution. The Tenth District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s restitution order. In State v. Allen, the Court will consider whether banks are the victims of check forgers and are entitled to restitution.

A jury found a Wood County man guilty on six counts for raping his stepdaughter and stepniece. The counts were merged, and the prosecutor chose three counts based on a state law that prohibits sexual conduct when the “person’s ability to resist or consent is substantially impaired by a mental or physical condition.” In State v. Horn, the man argues that a familial relationship isn’t a mental or physical condition. Such conditions are suffered by the victim, and the relationships within a family cannot cause substantial impairment nor establish the basis of guilt for this offense, he states. The prosecutor counters that the disproportionate power dynamic between the stepfather and these girls caused substantial impairment.

The Board of Professional Conduct recommends that the Court permanently disbar an indefinitely suspended Columbus attorney and suspend another Columbus attorney for two years, with one year stayed with conditions. The board found the two acted together to violate multiple professional conduct rules. The board found the lawyer used the suspended lawyer’s prominence to gain clients and then permitted the suspended lawyer to improperly assist with the cases. In Disciplinary Counsel v. Dougherty and Cicero, the pair are accused of misrepresenting the nature of the arrangement to clients and disciplinary investigators. Because the indefinitely suspended lawyer didn’t file objections to the board’s report, he won’t participate in oral arguments. The Court will only hear the objections of the lawyer who argues that he made the clients aware of his associate’s suspension and that his conduct for the most part didn’t break the rules.