Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 21, 2017

OH Supreme Court Grants Writ of Prohibition for Allegations Challenging the Validity of a Land Application Management Plan

In this case, relators, Rocky Ridge Development, L.L.C., and Custom Ecology of Ohio, Inc., d.b.a. Stansley Industries, Inc., sought a writ of prohibition against respondent, Ottawa County Common Pleas Court Judge Bruce Winters. This case arose from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (“OEPA”) approving a Land Application Management Plan (“LAMP”), which permitted Stansley to use spent lime in a soil blend as general fill to increase elevation and improve drainage on its property. Benton Township filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against Rocky Ridge and Stansley in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court, alleging that the companies were violating the terms of the LAMP, were in violation of Benton Township local zoning ordinances and state law, and were creating a public nuisance. Judge Winters issued a temporary restraining order, and enjoined the relators “from operating in Benton Township until and unless they are in compliance with the Benton Township Zoning Resolution and the laws of the State of Ohio.”

Rocky Ridge first argued that prohibition was appropriate in this case because the matters before Judge Winters fell within the exclusive statutory jurisdiction of the Environmental Review Appeals Commission (“ERAC”). Here, the township contended that the LAMP was issued to an improper party, that Rocky Ridge violated the express terms of the LAMP, and that Rocky Ridge was conducting operations in violation of state law. The court found that all of those allegations directly challenged the validity of the LAMP or Rocky Ridge’s compliance with the LAMP, and therefore fell under ERAC’s exclusive jurisdiction. As such, the court held that Judge Winters lacked jurisdiction to consider these matters, and an issuance of a writ of prohibition was warranted as to these allegations.

The court next held that even assuming that Benton Township’s zoning regulations were preempted, it could not grant a writ of prohibition on that basis, because preemption does not create a jurisdictional defect in the trial court. As one of the parties to this case alleged preemption of local zoning ordinances due to conflict with state law, the trial court had jurisdiction to determine whether such a conflict existed. Accordingly, the court denied the requested writ as to any claims based on violations of the Benton Township Zoning Resolution.

Rocky Ridge lastly argued that ERAC had exclusive jurisdiction to consider Benton Township’s complaint, as it alleged that operations at the site were causing various nuisances. The court rejected this contention, finding that the Revised Code expressly preserved the traditional authority of the common pleas courts to hear nuisance suits. Thus, Judge Winters did not lack jurisdiction to determine whether the alleged nuisances were a result of permissible operations or a consequence of Rocky Ridge breaching the conditions in its LAMP.

State ex rel Rocky Ridge Development v Winters, 2017 WL 4182961 (OH 9/21/2017)

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