In its written decision issued on December 4, 2013, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that a trial court should exercise great caution in sustaining a motion for a directed verdict on the opening statement of counsel, and although a trial court is not required to consider allegations contained in the pleadings when ruling on a motion for directed verdict made on the opening statement of an opponent, the pleadings may be used by the court in liberally construing the opening statement in favor of the party against whom the motion is made.
The Supreme Court of Ohio further held that a trial court may grant a motion for directed verdict made at the close of a party’s opening statement only when that statement indicates that the party will be unable to sustain its cause of action or defense at trial.
Ohio’s Rules Regarding Motions For Directed Verdict
In Ohio, a motion for directed verdict can be made at three separate points after the trial has commenced: after an opponent’s opening statement, at the close of an opponent’s evidence, or at the close of all the evidence. (Ohio’s Civ.R. 50(A)) A motion for directed verdict made at the conclusion of an opponent’s opening statement focuses on what has been said during the opening statement.
A motion for directed verdict may be granted without referring to the pleadings when an assertion is made during opening statement that indicates that the party will be unable to sustain its claim or defense at trial (for example, when a plaintiff admits an affirmative defense that bars the claim or states explicitly that a certain element of the claim cannot be established). However, since opening statements are not evidence and only serve as previews of a party’s claims that are designed to merely help the jury follow the evidence as it is presented later in the trial, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that it would be inappropriate to require that parties state with particularity during opening statements all facts upon which their claims or defenses are based or risk losing a case on directed verdict.
The Supreme Court of Ohio set forth the following standard to be applied by a trial court when deciding a motion for directed verdict after an opponent’s opening statement: if it is unclear from the opening statement whether the party against whom the motion is made can proceed with its case, the court must determine whether that party has otherwise set forth a cause of action or defense. It is at this point that the court may choose to consult the pleadings to determine whether all the facts expected to be proved, and those that have been stated, do not constitute a cause of action or a defense. In short, “the court must give the party against whom the motion is made the benefit of the doubt.” If the court considers all information before it, such as the opening statement and the pleadings, and finds that what the party has set forth constitutes a claim or defense, the court should deny the motion for directed verdict.
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