Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Dennis Stiner, administrator of the Estate of Logan J. Stiner, v., Inc. et al., Case no. 2019-0488
Ninth District Court of Appeals (Lorain County)

State of Ohio v. David Hackett, Case no. 2019-0601
Seventh District Court of Appeals (Mahoning County)

In re M.H., Case no. 2019-0621
Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County)

Can Amazon Be Held Liable for Sale of Product That Killed Teen?

Dennis Stiner, administrator of the Estate of Logan J. Stiner, v., Inc. et al., Case no. 2019-0488
Ninth District Court of Appeals (Lorain County)


  • Under the Ohio Product Liability Act, R.C. 2307.71, should an online retail website be considered a “supplier” if the website highlights a product sold and shipped solely by a company not affiliated with the online retailer?
  • Can an online retailer be held strictly liable for the sale of a product that led to the death of a consumer, which was purchased through the website, but sold and shipped solely to the customer by a company not affiliated with the retailer?
  • Does an online retail website’s facilitation of a sale of a product mean the retailer “otherwise participates in the placing of a product in the stream of commerce?”

In 2014, Logan Stiner was a senior and wrestler at Keystone High School in LaGrange. He asked his friend Kelsey Kidd about a “pre-workout” supplement to enhance his athletic training. Kidd researched pre-workout supplements on, and Amazon’s search engine recommended “Hard Rhino Pure Caffeine.” Kidd later testified that after entering the word “pre-workout,” she noted a section on Amazon titled “products you may like” at the bottom of the page. Although she had never heard of Hard Rhino or pure caffeine, she saw it listed and purchased the product.

The pure caffeine she purchased originated from CSPC Pharmaceutical based in China. The powder was imported by Green Wave Ingredients, and provided to Arizona-based Tenkoris LLC. Tenkoris packaged the powder and posted its sale on Amazon under the name “The Bulk Source.” At the time of the sale, the sale of pure caffeine was not illegal and it wasn’t until 2018 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggested the restriction of the bulk sale of caffeine powder to consumers.

Kidd used the powder for about three months, and after an exchange of nearly 30 text messages with Stiner, she agreed to supply him with some. Kidd explained to Stiner the importance of proper dosing and the risks of using too much, telling him if he was not careful the product could kill him. Kidd delivered the powder to Stiner in a plastic bag, which didn’t contain written instructions on the dosage.

The day she delivered the pure caffeine, Stiner was found unresponsive. The coroner ruled the cause of Stiner’s death to be from cardiac arrythmia and seizure due to acute caffeine toxicity from the ingestion of excessive caffeine. Following Stiner’s death, the FDA warned consumers to avoid pure caffeine powder, and Amazon prohibited the sale of the product by third-party vendors such as Tenkoris.

Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Dennis Stiner, Logan’s father, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Lorain County Common Pleas Court against Amazon, Green Wave, Tenkoris, CSPC, and Kidd, alleging that Amazon and the others were responsible for the manufacture, sale, labeling, and safety of the caffeine powder Kidd purchased. Stiner settled his lawsuit with Tenkoris, Green Wave, and Kidd, but was unable to locate CSPC to make it part of the lawsuit, leaving Amazon as the only other party to contest the matter.

Amazon sought summary judgment, arguing that it wasn’t a “supplier” or “manufacturer” of the pure caffeine, and Stiner can’t hold the company liable under the Ohio Products Liability Act, R.C. 2307.71 to R.C. 2307.80 The trial court granted Amazon’s summary judgment, and Stiner appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals. The Ninth District affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Stiner appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. To comply with state directives during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear Stiner’s case via teleconference.

E-Commerce Requires New Look at Definition of Supplier, Father Argues
Stiner argues the lower courts are relying on antiquated case law definitions of supplier that allow Amazon to escape liability because the company didn’t physically touch or take title to the powder that killed his son. He maintains the lower courts diminished Amazon’s role in the sale and the powerful influence the company has as the dominant online retailer in the United States.

Stiner’s reply brief notes an Amazon representative testified before Congress in July 2019 that the company and its “selling partners” work together to create a better customer experience. He maintains the company’s agreements with third-party sellers, such as Tenkoris, makes it a “supplier” of the powder that killed his son, and the company can be held strictly liable for damages under state product liability laws.

R.C. 2307.71(A)(15) defines “supplier as “a person that, in the course of a business conducted for the purpose, sells, distributes, leases, prepares, blends, packages, labels, or otherwise participates in the placing of a product in the stream of commerce.”

He notes nothing in the definition requires a supplier to hold and transfer title of a product, and the phrase “otherwise participates in the place of a product in the stream of commerce” suggests an expansive definition. Amazon did more than allows Tenkoris to list Hard Rhino as a product to sell, but facilitated the sale by making it an option when Kidd searched for pre-workout supplements, Stiner asserts. He argues the company further assisted Tenkoris when it placed the product in the “product you may like” feature. Stiner maintains Kidd believed she was buying a product from Amazon, not Tenkoris or The Bulk Source, and Amazon controlled all aspects of the sale. The father notes Amazon’s agreement with its vendors didn’t even give Kidd the option of directly communicating with Tenkoris should she have had a complaint or issue with Hard Rhino, but directed her to make all contact with Amazon.

Stiner points to recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Fox v. Inc. (2019) dealing with Tennessee product liability law, and the Third Circuit Court of Court of Appeals in Obderdorf v. Inc.(2019), regarding Pennsylvania law. Both cases suggest Amazon can be held liable for dangerous products sold by third parties on its website, even though both cases haven’t yet found Amazon legally responsible for the buyers’ injuries.

Stiner argues that Amazon’s promotion and facilitation of a product originating in China that killed his son in Ohio puts Amazon in the best position to fully compensate the family for the loss.

Seller Had No Control of Product, Retailer Maintains
Ohio law has a clear definition of “supplier,” and the language of the law list actions involving ownership, control and hands-on action with a product, Amazon maintains. The company states it is an online store, and took no action that would qualify it as a “supplier” of the caffeine powder ingested by Stiner, who received the product from Kidd.

The company asserts Kidd testified that she chose the product and made the decision to purchase based on her own reading of the product description. It notes that the page clearly described that The Bulk Source (Tenkoris) was the seller of the product and when she placed the order, Amazon clearly noted on the confirmation page she was purchasing the powder from The Bulk Source, not Amazon.

Amazon states Tenkoris sold, packaged, labeled, and shipped the product to Kidd. Amazon had no role in the transaction that would qualify it as a “supplier” or “manufacturer” of the powder under Ohio product liability law, it states. When Kidd searched for pre-workout supplements, Tenkoris had already placed the Hard Rhino in the stream of commerce by making it for sale on Amazon and other websites. It was Tenkoris, not Amazon, who placed the powder in the stream of commerce, and even under the expansive definition of “supplier” suggested by Stiner, Amazon doesn’t qualify as the seller of the powder, the company concludes.

Amazon asserts that Stiner wants the Court to adopt the idea of “promotion” and “facilitation” as part of the definition of a “supplier,” but that isn’t the Court’ role. The company suggests Ohio’s legislature crafted the definition of “supplier” in the state’s product liability law, and any changes to it that would reflect the transition to an economy that is more reliant on online purchases should be made by the legislature.

Friend-of-the-Court Brief Submitted
An amicus curiae brief supporting the Amazon’s position has been submitted by jointly by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States and Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Dennis Stiner, administrator of the Estate of Logan J. Stiner: Brian Balser, 440.934.0044

Representing Inc.: Joyce Edelman, 614.227.2083

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Did Trial Court Deprive Defendant of Assistance from Standby Counsel?

State of Ohio v. David Hackett, Case no. 2019-0601
Seventh District Court of Appeals (Mahoning County)

ISSUE: When courts appoint standby counsel for defendants who elect to represent themselves in criminal cases, what does the assistance of standby counsel mean?

Collena Carpenter lived with David Hackett and a woman in a Youngstown residence. On Oct. 14, 2013, the Youngstown police found Carpenter’s dead body near the Mahoning River. Hackett was indicted that month in Carpenter’s death on charges of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder with specifications to allow the death penalty. The deputy coroner later determined Carpenter was stabbed to death.

In January 2016, the Mahoning County prosecutor dismissed the death penalty specifications. At a January 2017 hearing, the trial court considered Hackett’s request to represent himself during his trial. The judge asked Hackett about his understanding of court rules on criminal procedure and evidence, and cautioned Hackett about self-representation. The court then granted Hackett’s request to proceed pro se.

Evidence for Trial Is Extensive
The evidence in the case involved hundreds of pictures, extensive phone records, and many DNA samples. Two months before the scheduled trial, Hackett, who was being held in jail, received 2,100 pages of discovery and was offered access only in open court to review more than 10,000 pages of cell phone records. Hackett filed a motion asking for the “full and complete attributes obtainable from the court-ordered standby counsel.”

His motion requested that standby counsel “actively assist” him “in navigating courtroom protocol and procedure, including evidentiary and constitutional matters related to admitting or objecting to the admission of evidence ….” He asked that his standby counsel be allowed “to advocate on the record with respect to procedural matters as long as standby counsel’s actions neither undercut the reality nor the perception of Defendant’s control of his defense.” He added that he wanted the standby counsel “when necessary, [to] speak on the record to advance Defendant’s legal and procedural goals in ways he himself is unable to do for want of a lawyer’s training.” Hackett acknowledged he wasn’t entitled to “hybrid counsel.”

The court stated that Hackett had the right to counsel or the right to represent himself with the assistance of standby counsel. Noting that the two rights are independent and may not be asserted simultaneously, the court ruled Hackett was asking for “hybrid representation,” which is prohibited based on case law. The judge specifically cited State v. Martin, a 2004 Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

Defendant Asks Court to Explain Duties of Standby Counsel
Before jury selection began, Hackett asked for clarification about standby counsel:

Mr. Hackett: May I ask, Your Honor, how do you define the responsibilities or the duties of standby counsel?
The Court: If you decide now or during the trial that you are in over your head and ask me to have [your standby counsel] step in, then he would come in as your attorney. It is nothing more and nothing less than that.
Mr. Hackett: So in essence, the only time he has a voice, then is if I say I relinquish my defense as pro se.
The Court: Not your defense. That you relinquish your choice to proceed pro se.

The jury convicted Hackett of aggravated murder, rape, and kidnapping, and the court sentenced him to life without parole.

Appeal Raises Concerns over Limits on Standby Counsel
Hackett appealed to the Seventh District Court of Appeals, asserting in part that he was denied his right to counsel under the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment because the trial court incorrectly limited the role of his standby counsel. The Seventh District upheld the trial court’s sentence and convictions, including the decision regarding standby counsel.

Hackett appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court on several issues. The Court agreed to review his argument about the role of standby counsel. To comply with state directives during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear Hackett’s case via teleconference.

Assistance from Standby Counsel Must Be More Than Presence, Man Maintains
In Martin, the Ohio Supreme Court considered the right to counsel embodied in the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. The Court ruled that defendants have the right to representation by counsel or to proceed with the assistance of standby counsel. The right doesn’t include a “hybrid representation,” where the lawyer and the defendant act as co-counsel, the Court explained.

Martin stated that the right to self-representation includes the “assistance of standby counsel,” Hackett’s brief to the Court notes. The brief argues the trial court in this case interpreted the ban on hybrid representation so broadly that Hackett was deprived of any assistance from his standby counsel.

The trial court explicitly said his standby counsel’s only role would be to jump in if Hackett decided he no longer wanted to proceed pro se, “nothing more and nothing less,” Hackett’s brief states. Hackett maintains the judge limited him to either accepting full representation by a lawyer or representing himself with no assistance at all from the standby counsel.

The brief notes that Hackett struggled with evidentiary rules – as shown, for example, when he made an argument after the close of evidence that he had consensual sex with Carpenter, and when he was ineffective in questioning a police officer about other potential suspects. The brief also points to the volume of evidence, noting that two prosecutors were assigned to the trial.

Hackett concludes that the court limited the role of his standby counsel to nothing more and nothing less than literally standing by. He asks the Court to overturn the conviction and remand his case for a new trial.

Defendant Has No Right to Assistance from Standby Counsel, State Argues
The Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office counters that Hackett’s constitutional right to counsel wasn’t violated because criminal defendants don’t have a right to the assistance of standby counsel.

The prosecutor also cites Martin, arguing the case explains that once the right to counsel is waived, a trial court is permitted, not mandated, to appoint standby counsel for a pro se defendant. The office points to five state appeals courts, several federal circuit courts, and other state courts that have ruled standby counsel isn’t constitutionally required.

Noting that Hackett’s waiver of counsel was done knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, the prosecutor maintains that Hackett can’t now argue a violation of his constitutional right to counsel, standby or otherwise, after waiving the right. Nor can he raise issues based on what his standby counsel did or didn’t do in that role, the office asserts.

The prosecutor’s brief states that, even though Hackett said in his motion that he wasn’t requesting hybrid representation, the text of the motion showed he was asking for a co-counsel arrangement. The trial court properly rejected the motion and limited the role of the standby counsel to adhere to Martin, the prosecutor maintains.

The office notes that the record indicates Hackett’s standby counsel was present throughout the trial, Hackett didn’t have trouble introducing evidence and questioning witnesses, and he didn’t ask for recesses to consult with standby counsel. 

Attorney General Submits Brief, Will Participate in Arguments
An amicus curiae brief supporting the Mahoning County prosecutor’s position has been submitted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. At the request of the prosecutor and the attorney general, the Court agreed to let them share the 15 minutes of time allotted to the prosecutor for oral argument.

Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing David Hackett from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office: Stephen Hardwick, 614.466.5394

Representing the State of Ohio from the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office: Ralph Rivera, 330.740.2330

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Was Youth in Custody When Questioned by Social Worker, and Were His Statements Voluntary?

In re M.H., Case no. 2019-0621
Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County)


  • Even when a government social worker isn’t required to give Miranda warnings, is a child’s statement involuntary and a violation of due process?
  • Does a child feel free to leave when the child is driven by a parent to a government agency for questioning, separated from that parent, and questioned in a private room without being told he or she is free to leave or to not cooperate?
  • Must a child-suspect be read Miranda warnings when questioned by a social worker exercising the statutory duty to investigate child-abuse allegations and who does so cooperatively with police on a regular and institutional basis?

A child identified in court documents as M.H. was charged in a 2016 juvenile filing with sexual offenses. The alleged incident took place in August 2015. M.H., who was 13 at the time of the incident, lives with his mother, his mother’s boyfriend, and his siblings. His mother’s boyfriend has a daughter, identified as J.M., who regularly visits her father and spends time at the house.

In August 2015, 12-year-old J.M. spent the night at her father’s house. According to M.H.’s brief, a police report states that J.M. texted M.H. after she thought everyone was asleep, and they engaged in sexual activity. About a month later, J.M. told her mom about the activity with M.H.

J.M.’s mother contacted the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, and an agency social worker instructed her to file the police report. A detective in the Cleveland Division of Police was assigned to the case on Oct. 20, 2015.

M.H.’s mother said she received a letter in the fall of 2015 from the children services agency instructing her to bring M.H. to the agency’s office on a specific date for an interview. M.H.’s mother called the agency and spoke with the social worker, Esther Bradley. The briefs filed with the Supreme Court differ about whether the mother knew the purpose of the interview.

Mother Takes Young Teen to Agency for Interview
M.H.’s mother took M.H. to the agency on Dec. 2, 2015. She later testified that Bradley told her M.H. would be taken to a private room for the interview. The interview lasted about 40 minutes. The mother testified that she wasn’t informed that cooperating with the agency was optional, she wasn’t told she had a right to be in the room with her son for the interview, and no one explained that her son was being questioned about an alleged sex crime. M.H.’s mother said in the subsequent court proceedings that she would’ve had an attorney present if she knew what the interview was about.

Bradley testified she sent materials about the allegations to M.H.’s mother before the interview, the interview’s purpose was to determine whether J.M was safe, M.H. wasn’t restrained during the interview, and no law enforcement officers were present.

After the interview, Bradley compiled a report and submitted a copy, as required by law, to the detective. Charges were filed against M.H. in juvenile court in August 2016.

Youth Asks Juvenile Court to Exclude His Statements Made to Social Worker
Noting that he wasn’t advised of his Miranda rights at the interview, M.H. asked the juvenile court to suppress the statements he made to the social worker. The court agreed, based on M.H.’s due process and constitutional guarantees and because of an evidence rule that excludes evidence if its value as proof of the offense is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the accused or confusion of the issues.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor appealed. The Eighth District Court of Appeals stayed the case in November 2017 pending a decision from the Ohio Supreme Court in State v. Jackson. The Supreme Court ruled in Jackson in June 2018, and later that year, the Eighth District reversed the juvenile court’s suppression of M.H.’s statements. The Eighth District concluded hiss statements were voluntary, he wasn’t in custody, and Bradley wasn’t an agent of law enforcement.

M.H. appealed to the state Supreme Court, which accepted the case. To comply with state directives during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear Hudson’s case via teleconference.

Juvenile Argues He Wasn’t Told His Rights, and His Statements Weren’t Voluntary
The brief for M.H. reviews decisions involving juveniles from the U.S. and Ohio supreme courts. Those decisions have drawn distinctions between juveniles and adults in criminal cases, M.H. states. He maintains that the Ohio Supreme Court hasn’t yet applied this different analysis for juveniles to a variety of contexts, including the circumstances in his case.

He first focuses on whether his statements to Bradley were voluntary. Quoting In re Gault, a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, M.H. argues that for juveniles who make admissions without a lawyer, “the greatest care must be taken to assure that the admission was voluntary, in the sense not only that it was not coerced or suggested, but also that it was not the product of ignorance of rights or of adolescent fantasy, fright or despair.”

M.H.’s brief maintains that the youth was ignorant of his rights, he was 13 years old, his mother took him to be interviewed, he was alone and separated from his mother during the interview, he wasn’t told he was free to leave or any other rights, the agency has the power to separate children from parents, among other factors. Combining all these circumstances together establishes that M.H.’s statements to Bradley were involuntary, the brief argues.

M.H. also points to J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011), a U.S. Supreme Court case involving an in-school police interview. The decision concluded that age is a relevant factor in assessing whether a juvenile is in custody for determining whether the juvenile must be read Miranda rights. M.H. states that the Supreme Court adopted a “reasonable child,” rather than a “reasonable adult,” standard for determining whether a juvenile is in custody. From his perspective, he was in custody during the social worker’s interview and he should have been given the Miranda warnings.

The brief also argues that the “deep institutionalized relationship” between the Cleveland police and the city’s children services agency, and their “hand-in-hand cooperation” with each other, shows that Bradley acted as an agent of law enforcement. M.H. maintains that the Ohio Supreme Court’s Jackson decision found the unique circumstances of each case determine whether someone is acting as an agent of law enforcement. In his case, M.H. notes, Bradley had been a police officer and homicide detective before joining the children services agency, and she had a duty to report the findings of her investigation to the police for possible prosecution. The detective knew about the allegations before Bradley’s interview, but Bradley conducted it, M.H. points out.

M.H. rejects the “power to arrest” focus in Jackson for determining who is law enforcement. Noting that “arrest” means “to keep a person in lawful custody,” he states that he was in the custody of Bradley, a children services agency employee. He adds that the Jackson case involved an incarcerated adult, not a child. The only legitimate purpose of Bradley’s interview of the young teen was to directly assist law enforcement’s investigation, he concludes.

Prosecutor Maintains Youth Wasn’t Coerced and Wasn’t in Custody
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office counters that the Eighth District looked at the circumstances M.H. describes – including his age, being questioned alone, the length of the interview, and his freedom to leave – and it concluded that M.H.’s statements were voluntary. The prosecutor maintains the record doesn’t show that M.H. was ignorant of his rights, that he was coerced by Bradley to make his statements, or that Bradley frightened him.

The office contends that M.H.’s view of custody would mean a juvenile is in custody any time the child’s parents take the child anywhere. When deciding whether someone should be read their Miranda rights, custody isn’t necessarily determined based only on whether the person is free to leave, the prosecutor states. Citing a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the office maintains that “custody” in this context refers to circumstances that present a serious danger of coercion.

In M.H.’s case, the prosecutor notes that at the time of the interview no charges had been filed, M.H. wasn’t under arrest, his mother was in the lobby, the room was unlocked, he wasn’t restrained, and he didn’t express reluctance or hesitation in answering Bradley’s questions. There was no evidence of coercion, the prosecutor argues.

The office states that J.D.B., and all of the cases cited by M.H., involved statements made to police, not to social workers. While the U.S. Supreme Court stated in J.D.B. that a juvenile’s age in some cases would affect the juvenile’s perception of whether he or she could leave a police interview, the court didn’t conclude that a child’s age is determinative in every case and didn’t find that J.D.B. was in custody requiring Miranda warnings, the prosecutor maintains. Instead, the prosecutor indicates, the court ruled that a juvenile’s age informs the analysis of whether a child is in custody.

Acknowledging that Bradley had a duty to investigate J.M.’s allegations of sex offenses and had a duty to report any possible criminal findings to law enforcement, the prosecutor disputes that Bradley was working as an agent of law enforcement. The office notes that the Jackson ruling states the relevant statutes don’t require children services agency employees to conduct interviews at the direction of law enforcement or under their control. The Cleveland police didn’t attend M.H.’s interview, didn’t ask Bradley to interview M.H., and didn’t provide questions to Bradley, the prosecutor maintains. The office argues that Bradley’s prior experience in law enforcement is irrelevant and she had no authority to arrest M.H. – the key factor delineated in Jackson.

Law Firm for Juveniles and State Attorney General Submit Briefs
An amicus curiae brief supporting M.H.’s positions has been submitted by the Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm for children. The brief advocates “different and careful treatment of young people when they are subject to state-initiated interrogations.”

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed an amicus brief supporting the Cuyahoga County prosecutor. The brief states the attorney general wants to ensure that social workers can “protect families and children by conducting unencumbered investigations into allegations of child abuse.” The prosecutor and the attorney general asked to share the 15 minutes of time allotted to the prosecutor for oral argument, and the Court approved the request.

Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing M.H. from the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office: Paul Kuzmins, 216.443.3677

Representing the State of Ohio from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office: Jennifer Meyer, 216.443.7349

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