One of the most common questions people ask when considering filing for bankruptcy is whether or not they can keep their house. This makes sense as a house is often the most valuable asset you own and the place you live and raise your family. Many people fall behind on their payments due to an unexpected income reduction due to a job loss or illness. Later, they find a new job and/or their financial situation changes and they need a way to catch up their house payments to stop the bank from foreclosing against their property. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy offers homeowners a way to protect their homes and stop foreclosure lawsuits in their tracks.

When you file Chapter 13 Bankruptcy you receive the protection of the automatic stay. The automatic stops any creditor’s attempts to begin, continue, or complete a foreclosure lawsuit in state court. The automatic stay goes into place immediately after you file and will stop a court ordered sheriff’s sale from proceeding. The automatic stay allows you to breathe easier knowing that your house will not be lost on the courthouse steps.

Chapter 13 offers many benefits that allow you use your income to repay some or all of your debt. You may also have the benefit of paying your unsecured creditors back a reduced amount that is based on your income. Your bankruptcy attorney will propose a Chapter 13 Plan that allows you to pay back your past-due mortgage payments and penalties over the course of 36 to 60 months depending on your income. You are still responsible for making your standard monthly mortgage payment in addition to your new additional Plan payment, but your back payments are spread out over the course of the Plan to make them affordable.

Chapter 13 can be beneficial for you if you have a 2nd mortgage that is not secured against your property because your house is worth less than the balance of your first mortgage. An example is if your 1st mortgage is $100,000 and you have a 2nd mortgage or home equity line of credit for $20,000, and your house is only worth $85,000, you may be able to ‘strip’ off the 2nd mortgage and only pay back a percentage of the amount owed on the 2nd mortgage. At the end of your Chapter 13 your 2nd mortgage is eliminated and you will only owe the balance on your 1st mortgage. Please consult your bankruptcy attorney to see if you would qualify.

If you successfully complete your Chapter 13 by making all of your plan payments, you debt will be discharged and your mortgage payments will be deemed current. From this time on you can continue to make your normal monthly payments until your mortgage is paid off. You will also have your other eligible debts discharged as well. Chapter 13 is a great vehicle for eligible homeowners to use to save their homes and reduce their debt. Contact Finney Law Firm today for a free consultation to see if Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the right option for you.

Unless a couple has assets in excess of five million dollars, estate taxes are no longer a concern for Ohio residents.  This is because Ohio has done away with its estate tax, and the Federal estate tax exemption is now over five million dollars.  For such couples, the new estate “tax” planning is income tax planning.  The income tax planning includes allocating assets between the couple to take advantage of the step up of basis on each of the individuals passing in order to minimize any capital gains taxes due.

Chapter 5321 of the Ohio Revised Code, known as the Landlord-Tenant Act, governs the rights and duties of landlords and tenants in Ohio.  Among other things, the Act requires Landlords to maintain rental properties in a fit and habitable condition, and to keep all common areas of the premises in a safe and sanitary condition.  Recently, in Mann v. Northgate Investors, LLC, the Ohio Supreme Court was asked to determine whether these duties extend not only to tenants, but also to tenants’ guests.

Lauren Mann filed the lawsuit after suffering injuries at Northgate’s apartment building. Mann had been visiting a friend who was a tenant in Northgate’s building. She left her friend’s apartment around 11:00 p.m., and descended two flights of stairs in the dark because there were no functioning lights in the stairway.  When she reached the ground floor, Mann stumbled into a glass panel adjacent to the exit doors, thereby injuring herself.

In her lawsuit, Mann alleged that Northgate negligently failed to maintain adequate lighting for safe ingress and egress into the premises in violation its duties under R.C. 5321.04(A)(3).  The trial court, however, granted summary judgment for Northgate, finding that the Landlord-Tenant Act was intended to establish duties between landlords and tenants, not their guests.  The trial court determined that because Mann was classified as a “business invitee,” Northgate only owed her a duty of ordinary care. The trial court further held that the darkness on the stairs was open and obvious, and that the duty of ordinary care is negated when the hazard posed to the invitee is open and obvious.

Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. Unlike the trial court, the 10th District determined that guests are entitled to protection under the Landlord-Tenant Act. The 10th District further held that the Landlord’s violation of its duty to keep the common areas safe constitutes negligence per se, meaning that the open and obvious doctrine did not apply to negate the landlord’s duties.

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear the case because the 10th District’s opinion conflicted with the Ninth District’s decision in Shumaker v. Park Lane Manor of Akron, Inc. The Ohio Supreme Court issued its decision on February 12, 2014, in which it held that “a landlord owes to a tenant’s guest the same duty that the landlord owes a tenant.” Therefore, the Court found that Northgate owed a duty to Mann under R.C. 5321.04(A)(3) to keep the common areas of the premises in a safe and sanitary condition. The Court further held that a landlord’s violation of this statutory duty constitutes negligence per se and obviates the open- and- obvious- danger doctrine.

This case should serve as reminder to landlords of their duties under the Landlord-Tenant Act. Landlords who fail to comply with their statutory duties risk facing lawsuits not only from their tenants, but to guests who are properly on the premises. The Finney Law Firm has extensive experience in both residential and commercial leasing disputes. Please contact our office if you have any questions about current or prospective leasing arrangements.

Once considered a model for open and accountable government, Ohio’s Open Meetings Act (R.C. § 121.22, et seq.) was intended to be “liberally construed to require public officials to take official action and to conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings unless the subject matter is specifically excepted by law.”

What appears to be pretty straightforward language, telling the courts to read the statute in favor of open government, the courts have slowly whittled away at what had been a model law.

But there is hope. Adam Stewart v. Board of Education of Lockland School District challenges a school board’s decision to hold an employee disciplinary hearing in executive session (non-public), even though the employee himself demanded a public hearing. The trial court and court of appeals relied on a 1980 Ohio Supreme Court case that interpreted the law to allow the School Board to hold a non-public hearing despite the employee’s demand.  So where is the hope? The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of the decision in the Stewart case. Stewart will have the opportunity to ask the Court to revisit its 1980 decision and re-liberalize Ohio’s Open Meeting Act.

The Finney Law Firm was contacted early this year by a group of landlords owning single family homes in the City of Mt. Healthy.

The City had begun a mandatory rental registration and inspection program for single family homes.  While the City fathers invariably thought the intrusive and expensive program was a good idea, as a matter of law it imposed a scheme of warrantless searches in violation of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Finney Law Firm filed suit in early April.  Within days, the City of Mt. Healthy announced it was suspending enforcement of the Ordinance and within weeks Council met and formally repealed the offending Ordinance.

Our clients remain concerned with the constitutionality of the replacement legislation, and will continue to pursue that through conclusion, but we are pleased our public interest litigators addressed this unconstitutional action so quickly and decisively.

Like your business, the Finney law Firm has a business plan — to grow our services to meet your needs both in volume of service delivery as well as breadth of practice areas.

In March, Chris Ragonisi — an experienced labor and employment attorney — agreed to become “of counsel” to our firm to serve this area of need for our clients.

In April, Brad Gibson, a gifted commercial and public interest litigator signed on as a litigation associate.

Finally, to accommodExpansionate this growth, we had to add two new offices and a wing for more paralegals.  The build-out has begun!

We are excited to bring these professionals along to meet our clients’ needs.

And, we have more announcements coming soon!

The below post was made shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court accepted review of Susan B. Anthony List v. Ohio Elections Commission on January 10, 2014.

Since that time, the Supreme Court decided in our favor 9-0 (in an opinion authored by Clarence Thomas) in the Susan B. Anthony List case on June 16, 2014 and in COAST Candidates PAC v. Ohio Elections Commission on June 23, 2014. Read about those wins here, here and here.

The print utilized as our graphic is gratefully PRINTED WITH THE AGREEMENT OF THE KAMIL KUBIK FOUNDATION.

It was a momentous event for our brand new law firm.

Within ten days of our formal launch in January of 2014, the United States Supreme Court granted one of its few writs of certiorari to our client, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), to review a 2013 decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  COAST and the Susan B. Anthony List are challenging the jurisdiction of the Ohio Elections Commission to judge and punish claimed claimed false statements made during the course of political campaigns.  At the request of the state of Ohio, both the trial court and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case without considering the merits.

The case has been written about extensively in national publications.  Read here,  here, here, and here.

To illustrate the difficulty of getting before the Court, during its current term, US Supreme Court will grant discretionary review of fewer than 100 of more than 10,000 applications   The vast majority of litigators will spend their entire careers without ever having a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Finney Law Firm is committed to vigorous representation of our clients, including challenging the authority of government actors to enforce laws that violate the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions, or are otherwise illegal.  This important case is an example of that aggressive approach our attorneys undertake with zeal.

We expect to have a decision by the end of June.