Mayhew-Hite Report        Perspectives from Ohio’s DR Conference: Court-Connected Online Dispute Resolution: Enhancing Access to Civil Justice

Miki Someya*

ODR supplements traditional dispute resolution systems, bringing together dispute resolution principles with modern information and communication technology.  The e–commerce industry is the first industry which invested to ODR. Mr. Rule is the former director of online dispute resolution for eBay. At eBay, out of 6 million disputes, 90% of dispute were resolved in software, without any human intervention.  When compared to court processes, Mr. Rule states that ODR saves parties 50% of their time.

Colin Rule at the Supreme Court Conference.
Credit, Katie Monahan, Supreme Court of Ohio.

ODR is typically involves a three-step process. First, automated resolution software diagnoses disputes and sets expectations around timing and process.  Even at this first steps, software can sometimes prevent dispute at that point. Second, software facilitates negotiation between parties, promoting constructive negotiations.  By way of example, the software suggest an initial message format which will help parties to provide sufficient information without too much negative emotion. When the software cannot solve issues, then the system helps mediation. At this third step, a human party serves as the mediator—but all mediations are still conducted online.

Mr. Rule, founder of ODR platform Modria, one of the first ODR providers, believes that ODR is the future of civil justice.  Citizens are now living with technology, and they expect court systems to develop online resources that can be utilized during the civil justice process. The use of technology in dispute resolution can make dispute resolution fairer and faster. ODR also may enhance access to courts. Coordinating everyone’s schedule is a challenge in traditional dispute resolution systems, and people could be barred from justice if they could not physically come to court during limited court hours.

Court-connected ODR first started internationally, and then came to U.S. For example, U.K. has all-online court, UK Ministry of Justice Personal Injury Claims Portal, for three low value cases: personal injury relating to car accidents, employees’ liability, and public liability claims. Several courts in U.S. are currently aiming to launch pilots ODR.

Franklin County Municipal Court (FCMC) is at the cutting edge of ODR, already resolving hundreds of disputes online annually.  Ms. Cravener and Mr. Sanchez administer the Franklin County Municipal Court’s ODR platform.  Working with Modria FCMC launched its ODR platform in 2016 with a pilot project for City tax cases.  During the pilot period, 34% of the users accessed the ODR system outside of normal court hours, and 92% reached an agreement. In addition to city tax claims, FCMC’s ODR system is used to resolve small claims, credit card, landlord-tenant, and other disputes under $6,000. FCMC’s system now offers an online negotiation system to connect people who are willing to talk before court hearings. FCMC’s website explains the process:

Are you involved in a lawsuit? You can resolve your case here. Simply provide some information about yourself and your case, and then you and the other party will be guided through the process of reaching a resolution that is acceptable to everyone. It’s easy to use, there’s no cost, and if you don’t reach an agreement, you can still proceed with other legal options. Explore the Help Center if you’d like to learn more before you get started.[1]

But the future of ODR isn’t limited to small claims disputes.  Mr. Rule mentioned it can be even used in family disputes. He believes ODR is an opportunity to expand access to justice.

* JD Candidate, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
[1] https://sc.courtinnovations.com/OHFCMC.  For more about FCMC’s program, https://www.mediate.com/articles/leoneg7.cfm