Reynoldsville Casket Co. v. Hyde, 514 U.S. 749 (1995)

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certiorari to the supreme court of ohio

No. 94-3. Argued February 27, 1995—Decided May 15, 1995

More than three years after respondent Hyde was in an accident in Ohio with a truck owned by a Pennsylvania company, she filed suit in an Ohio county court against the company and the truck's driver, petitioners herein. The suit was timely under an Ohio provision that tolls the running of the State's 2-year statute of limitations in lawsuits against outof-state defendants. However, while her case was pending, this Court, in Bendix Autolite Corp. v. Midwesco Enterprises, Inc., 486 U. S. 888, held that the tolling provision places an unconstitutional burden upon interstate commerce. The county court dismissed her suit as untimely, but it was ultimately reinstated by the State Supreme Court, which held that Bendix could not be applied retroactively to bar claims that had accrued prior to the announcement of that decision.

Held: The Supremacy Clause bars Ohio from applying its tolling statute to pre-Bendix torts. Pp. 752-759. (a) Hyde acknowledges that this Court, in Harper v. Virginia Dept. of Taxation, 509 U. S. 86, 97, held that, when it decides a case and applies the new legal rule of that case to the parties before it, then it and other courts must treat the same rule as "retroactive," applying it, for example, to pending cases, whether or not they involve predecision events. She thereby concedes that Bendix applies to her case and retroactively invalidated the tolling provision that makes her suit timely. She argues instead that the issue here is not one of retroactivity, and that the Ohio Supreme Court's action is permissible because all that court has done is to fashion a remedy that takes into consideration her reliance on pre-Bendix law. Pp. 752-753. (b) There are serious problems with Hyde's argument. The Ohio Supreme Court's syllabus (the legally authoritative statement of its holding) speaks, not about remedy, but about retroactivity. That court's refusal to dismiss her suit on the ground that she may have reasonably relied upon pre-Bendix law is the very sort of justification that this Court, in Harper, found insufficient to deny retroactive application of a new legal rule. She correctly notes that, as courts apply "retroactively" a new rule of law to pending cases, they may find instances where the new rule, for well-established legal reasons, does not determine the outcome of the case. However, this case involves no instance or special circumstance that might somehow justify the result she seeks.


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