eminent domain

Property rights fight continues

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in February on behalf of Ohio Farm Bureau members in a case involving eminent domain and court appeals.

In November, Ohio Farm Bureau filed briefs in separate, yet related cases on behalf of landowners in Washington County. The cases revolve around expanded transmission line easements being sought by Ohio Power (AEP), including on land owned by county Farm Bureau members.

Washington County case

The first case involves county Common Pleas Court Judge John Halliday. After ruling against the landowners on their claims that the utility company is taking more rights than they need to build a transmission line, the judge set a date for a trial to determine how much money is due to the landowners. However, the law states that a trial for money should only be set subject to any appeal on the question of necessity.

“So this was that situation where the court was moving forward with scheduling that compensation trial prior to the appeal being finished. And we supported our members in Washington County with an amicus brief just laying out our legal argument, but also the policy reasons of why we really need to have that one trial at a time going on,” explained Leah Curtis, OFBF policy counsel and senior director of member engagement, on a recent Legal with Leah podcast. “The Supreme Court ended up ruling that our interpretation, our understanding of the law was the correct one, that the compensation trial can’t move forward until the landowners have the opportunity to finish their appeal of the necessary and the public use determination.”

Curtis noted that this Ohio Supreme Court ruling was “one more step toward leveling the playing field in eminent domain and just making sure that landowners have the best opportunity to put forth the best case possible.”

A second set of cases are the appeals of the underlying case presided over by Halliday. Here, Ohio Power is attempting to take an easement by eminent domain for its transmission line. However, the company is asking to take more than is necessary to build this line — including the right to build structures in the easement, and a “tree protection zone” that extends 80 feet on either side of the easement with no plan to compensate for such “zone.”

“There are actually four separate cases that concern this same project, and we have filed in all four of them,” Curtis said.

“The landowners have appealed his order on the basis of necessity, and therefore, should be entitled to a stay of the proceedings for the money damages,” Curtis said.

The landowners filed in the Ohio Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition, which would prohibit a government official from performing any task before the appeal is heard. Ohio Farm Bureau supported the landowners with an amicus brief. The Ohio Supreme Court has yet to rule on this case.

Online extra

The Ohio Farm Bureau Landowner Toolkit contains essential information prepared by Ohio Farm Bureau’s legal team that will help answer questions unique to property owners on topics such as all-purpose vehicles, oil and gas, Ohio landowner rights, dog laws, drainage, line fences, open burning, zoning, trespassing and more.