Ohio Supreme Court ruling a win for Washington Twp. woman in pawn shop fight

The Ohio Supreme Court declined to rule in a case involving a Washington Twp. woman and a Cincinnati-area pawn shop that she said sold jewelry stolen from her house.

The 5-2 decision announced Tuesday included that the court “improvidently accepted” the case, meaning it should not have heard it, and sent it back to a lower court, which had ruled in favor of Irene Danopulos, the property owner.

Ohio’s top court also said the case could not be used as a precedent by others, meaning the ruling only applies to the case involving Danopulos and American Trading.

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Marianna Bettman, distinguished teaching professor and professor of practice emerita at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, told the Dayton Daily News that cases dismissed as improvidently accepted mean the court of appeals decision stands.

“It usually means there was less there than met the eye when the court agreed to hear it, in terms of resolving a question of public or great general interest,” Bettman said. “What is left now is for the trial court to determine the amount of damages she is entitled to.”

Justices on July 9 heard oral arguments regarding the case by Danopulos, whose home was broken into. Several pieces of jewelry were stolen and subsequently pawned in June of 2014.

After holding the items for more than 15 days, American Trading disassembled the jewelry, melted some of it down, and sold the materials to various buyers for $7,064.

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In mid-July 2014, a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office detective went to American Trading after learning through an online pawn shop reporting system that the jewelry was there. He determined the jewelry sold there belonged to Danopulos and requested that it be returned. American Trading told him it no longer had the jewelry.

Danopulos sued the Cincinnati pawn shop, claiming conversion, which is the wrongful use or withholding of someone else’s property to the exclusion of the owner.

The pawn shop argued it couldn’t be held liable for conversion because it complied with the provisions of the Ohio Pawnbrokers Act, which specify a 15-day holding period for the property it receives.

The trial court agreed with American Trading, and Danopulos appealed to the First District Court of Appeals.

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The First District reversed the ruling, noting that even if the pawn shop was in compliance with the statutes, that alone didn’t exonerate American Trading if the goods were stolen. That led the pawn shop to appeal to the state’s highest court.

Bettman pointed to part of the most recent court of appeals decision, which stated, “We hold that American Trading’s intentional disassembly and sale of Danopulos’ stolen property, after acquiring it from a person who lacked the power to transfer a propriety interest to American Trading, and without Danopulos’ permission, established American Trading’s conversion of Danopulos’ property.”

Tuesday’s Ohio Supreme Court ruling said, “The court orders that the opinion of the court of appeals may not be cited as authority except by the parties inter se.”

“That means this case cannot be used as precedent by others and is just binding between these two parties,” Bettman said.

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Raphael Tincher, president of the Ohio Pawnbrokers Association, said he stands behind the Cincinnati pawn shop and also behind any business that operates legally. He thinks Tuesday’s decision is a win for the pawn business.

“If you take something in and you do it in a legal fashion with no knowledge that something is stolen and dispose of it in the normal course of your business and then somebody 10 years later says ‘that was stolen’ and then you are on the hook for it? That’s absurd,” Tincher said. “In my opinion, it is a victory for people that deal in pre-owned merchandise because you are not going to be on-the-hook forever. The bad decision at the appeals court level is not case law and only affects those two parties.”

He said those who follow the law and do things the right way should be protected, whether a pawnbroker or a private citizen.

“The pawn broker followed the law, and had held the property for 15 days and clearly reported it to law enforcement, which is what was supposed to happen,” Tincher said.

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