Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 8, 2011

Ohio Supreme Court Rules that a Township is Not a Necessary Party to a Constitutional Challenge to the One-subject Rule

The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that: 1) a challenge to a legislative enactment under the Ohio Constitution’s “one-subject rule” is a challenge to the authority of the General Assembly to enact that bill, not a challenge to the statutory provisions of the bill itself; and 2) a township is not a necessary party to a constitutional challenge to an enactment of the General Assembly under the one-subject rule.

Applying those holdings to a Hamilton County case, the Court ruled that, even though a township was the defendant in a pending zoning lawsuit filed by a landfill operator, the township did not have standing to intervene in a separate lawsuit filed by the same landfill operator challenging the constitutionality of state legislation that impacted townships’ zoning authority over private landfills.

The case involved an attempt by Rumpke Sanitary Landfill Inc., which owns and operates a solid waste landfill in Colerain Township near Cincinnati, to expand its existing facility. Rumpke and the owners of adjacent properties applied to the township trustees for a zoning change that would allow expansion of the landfill.  The trustees denied the requested zoning.

Rumpke filed suit against the township in the Hamilton County Court of  Common Pleas. Among other arguments, Rumpke asserted that it was a “public utility” and therefore was not subject to the township’s zoning restrictions.

While the zoning litigation remained pending, the 127th General Assembly passed and the governor signed Am. Sub. H.B. 562, an omnibus bill setting forth the state’s budget  appropriations for the 2009-2010 fiscal years. In addition to making capital and other appropriations for the operation of state agencies and programs, the bill amended more than 300 sections of the Revised Code.  Among those amendments, the bill made changes to R.C. 303.211 and 519.211 to specify that a privately owned solid waste facility does not fall within the definition of a “public utility” under those statutes.

On Sept. 2, 2008, before the effective date of H.B. 562, Rumpke filed a separate lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the provisions of the budget bill amending R.C. 303.211 and R.C. 519.211  were unconstitutional because they violated Section 15(D), Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which provides that “No bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.” 

Colerain Township sought to intervene as an interested and necessary party in the declaratory judgment action, asserting that it had a special interest in the case because the outcome could affect the pending zoning litigation between Rumpke and the township.  The state filed a motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment action, asserting that Rumpke’s constitutional claim could not go forward because they had failed to join Colerain as a necessary party to the declaratory judgment  action under R.C. 2721.12(A) and Civ.R. 19.

On Oct. 3, 2008, the common pleas court denied the township’s motion to intervene and the state’s motion to dismiss, and ordered that the provisions in H.B. 562 amending R.C. Sections 303.211 and 519.211 be “permanently enjoined from taking effect.” The trial court found that the provisions altering the definition of a “public utility” for zoning purposes were totally unrelated to the primary purpose of the budget bill, which was to make capital and other appropriations for the operation of state programs. On that basis, the trial court ruled that the challenged provisions were void because they violated the one-subject rule. On review, the 1st District Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Colerain’s motion to intervene, did not err in denying the state’s motion to dismiss for failure to join the township as a necessary party to the declaratory judgment action, and properly determined that the amendments to R.C. 303.211 and 519.211 violated the one-subject rule.

The Supreme Court agreed to review the legal question of whether “a township is an interested and necessary party to a constitutional challenge brought by a property owner within the township’s jurisdiction to a law passed by the General Assembly that directly affects the township’s police powers over that owner’s property and pending litigation.”

In today’s majority opinion affirming the judgment of the court of appeals, Justice O’Donnell wrote: “(W)hether a nonparty is a necessary party to a declaratory judgment action depends upon whether that nonparty has a legally protectable interest in rights that are the subject matter of the action. … The one-subject rule … is a constitutional limitation on the legislative power of the General Assembly.  Thus, a constitutional challenge to an enactment of the General Assembly based on violation of the one-subject rule is a challenge to the authority of the General Assembly to enact the bill, not a challenge to the underlying statutory provisions of the bill. Because a township has no legally protectable interest in the authority of the General Assembly to enact a bill, a township is not a necessary party to a constitutional challenge to the bill premised on a violation of the one-subject rule of the Ohio Constitution. Accordingly, Colerain is not a necessary party to Rumpke’s declaratory-judgment action.”

The Court also rejected arguments by the township that it should have been allowed to intervene in Rumpke’s declaratory judgment action pursuant to two provisions of the state’s rules of civil procedure. Justice O’Donnell wrote: “Civ.R.24(A)(2) permits intervention as of right only when an applicant has a legal interest in the action.  … Because Colerain has no legal interest in Rumpke’s action, the court of appeals correctly concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the township’s motion to intervene pursuant to Civ.R. 24(A).

“Civ.R. 19(A) provides that a person shall be joined as a party in an action if ‘(1) in his absence complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties, or (2) he claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in his absence may, as a practical matter, impair or impede his ability to protect that interest.’  Because Colerain has no legal interest in the outcome of Rumpke’s challenge to the authority of the General Assembly to enact Am.Sub.H.B. No. 562, its absence did not prevent Rumpke or the state from being accorded complete relief in that action.  Thus, the court of appeals properly affirmed the trial court’s denial of the state’s motion to dismiss the case for failure to join Colerain as a necessary party pursuant to Civ.R. 19(A).” 

Rumpke Sanitary Landfill, Inc. v. State of Ohio, 2010 WL 5175084 (Ohio, 12/16/2010). 

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2010/2010-Ohio-6037.pdf


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