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Farm Bureau legal advocacy agenda full in 2017

Ohio Farm Bureau’s legal advocacy agenda was packed at the end of 2016 and more of the same is expected in 2017, especially as it involves property rights and the use of eminent domain throughout the state.

“For farmers, property isn’t just dirt and rock, it’s their livelihood and their legacy. Property rights have been a top priority for OFBF throughout our 98-year history, and we continue to push for adequate protection of those rights.” said Leah Curtis, OFBF director of agricultural law.

Pickaway County eminent domain case

In litigation at the Ohio Supreme Court, OFBF wrote a brief supporting the landowners in BC South LLC v. Hon. Judge Knece, a Writ of Prohibition filed against Pickaway County Court of Common Pleas Judge Knece. In the case, Columbia Gas Co. has sought to appropriate property from a Farm Bureau member‑family for a pipeline which will feed a tissue paper manufacturer locating in Pickaway County.

Landowners have argued that this is not a public use (a requirement for eminent domain), that the easements sought to be obtained are overly broad and unnecessary, and that the company has not acted in good faith.

The writ was filed when the lower court judge attempted to move forward with the compensation, despite a pending appeal.

OFBF’s brief argues that the law’s language divests the trial court of jurisdiction and the ability to move forward with a compensation trial, if a landowner is appealing certain issues, including the right of appropriation and necessity. The Ohio Supreme Court granted an immediate stay of proceedings while the writ is pending at the court.

Mercer County case

A recent decision was made at the appellate court level in the ODNR v. Thomas (Mercer County) eminent domain case. Eminent domain action arose out of Grand Lake Saint Mary spillway expansion (ODNR v. Doner). ODNR had originally filed an appropriation action to take a flowage easement over 85 of the approximately 95 acres owned by the Thomases.

ODNR attempted to reduce the size of the take as set by the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, change the date of the take as set by the trial court, introduce new hydrological and appraisal evidence for purposes of valuation, introduce testimony from an additional appraisal expert, and compel yield information.

The trial court denied these and other motions, and the jury returned a verdict of $515,970. ODNR appealed on the aforementioned issues. OFBF participated as an amicus in this case, supporting the landowners with an amicus brief. On Dec. 27, 2016, the Third District Court of Appeals unanimously ruled to uphold the trial court’s decision in favor of the Thomases, rejecting all of ODNR’s arguments. OFBF anticipates this case will be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Eminent domain and pipelines

Also at the appellate and trial court levels, OFBF continues to support landowners in several eminent domain cases involving the Kinder Morgan Utopia pipeline. Kinder Morgan v. PDB Farms, et al. is an appeal of a lower court ruling that the Kinder Morgan Utopia line does not have the power of eminent domain because it cannot meet the public use and necessity requirements for eminent domain under the Ohio Constitution. OFBF filed an amicus brief in this case supporting the landowners. Two cases dealing with the same pipeline and similar issues remain pending at the Wood County Common Pleas court. OFBF has filed in those cases as an amicus as well.

Online extra: Curtis appears on Farm Bureau’s Legal with Leah, where she discusses topics impacting landowners.

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Kelli Milligan Stammen is director of publications for the Ohio Farm Bureau.