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Court News Ohio

Fourth District: Hillsboro Ordinance Limiting Indigent Burial Cost Invalid; Can’t Pass Off Costs to Township

The city of Hillsboro’s attempt to direct the cost of indigent burials to the township encompassing the county, and its attempt to limit the price it will pay for burials by ordinance were both rejected by a state appeals court.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of a Hillsboro Municipal trial court directing Hillsboro to pay $4,670 to Turner and Son Funeral Home for the cremation of four unclaimed deceased indigents who were residents of the city. In granting summary judgment to Turner, the court rejected the city’s interpretation of a state law that townships could be responsible to pay for indigent burials in areas where municipalities and townships overlap.

Between December 2012 and May 2013, Turner cremated four deceased indigents and billed the city $4,670. The city did not pay the invoices and in August 2013, sent a letter to Turner indicating it would not pay because it enacted a new city ordinance that interprets R.C. 9.15 to mean the township where the deceased person is found is responsible for paying for burial. The ordinance also indicates the city, through its home-rule powers granted by the Ohio Constitution, “opts out” of providing any services to deceased persons. If a court determines the city is responsible for payment, the ordinance limits the city’s  cost to $750 per person.

In December 2013, Turner filed a complaint in municipal court seeking to be paid for its work and a permanent injunction preventing the city from enforcing the ordinance. The trial court granted summary judgment to Turner and the city appealed the ruling to the Fourth District.

Writing for the appellate court, Judge Marie Hoover noted Hillsboro argued it is fully within the boundaries of Liberty Township and that it deems Liberty Township responsible for burial costs of any indigent person found within the city limits. The Turner and the city agreed that R.C. 9.15 is ambiguous as to who pays the expenses when a municipality is fully within a township. However,  Judge Hoover noted that the court found a 1996 Attorney General’s Opinion persuasive, which indicated municipalities are responsible for the cost in these situations.

“In sum, in applying the rules of construction and considering the administrative interpretation of the statute, we find that under R.C. 9.15, the General Assembly intended that the obligation to pay the burial or cremation expenses for qualifying deceased residents of a municipal corporation located within a township rest solely with the municipal corporation,” Judge Hoover wrote.

Turning to Hillsboro’s argument that home-rule authority allowed it to opt-out of following the state indigent burial rule or limiting the amount it has to pay, Judge Hoover stated  that R.C. 9.15 is a “general law” that applies statewide and is a reasonable attempt to protect the health and safety of state citizens. “Being a ‘general law,’ Hillsboro cannot opt out of or limit the requirements imposed by the statute notwithstanding the provisions of Section 3, Article XVIII of the Ohio Constitution,” she wrote.

The appeals court invalidated the ordinance and ordered Hillsboro to pay the judgment to Turner.

Judge William H. Harsha and Judge Matthew W. McFarland concurred in the decision.

Turner & Son Funeral Home v. Hillsboro, 2015-Ohio-1138
Civil Appeal From:  Ashtabula County
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: March 23, 2015

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