Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Case to Acquire Bike Trail Land Can Proceed Despite Law Limiting Park District

The Supreme Court of Ohio today ruled the Mill Creek Metropolitan Park District’s lawsuit to¬†acquire a man’s property to build a bike trail can proceed.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney can continue to consider Mill Creek’s “appropriations case” to obtain Edward Schlegel’s land. Schlegel requested that the high court dismiss the case after a new state law was passed to prevent the park district from using the power of eminent domain to acquire land for recreational trails.

Writing for the Court, Justice R. Patrick DeWine stated that the new law did not eliminate Judge Sweeney’s ability to consider the case. However, Schlegel could challenge Judge Sweeney’s decision to proceed with the case, despite the new law, in an appeal after the trial was completed, Justice DeWine explained.

Process for Government to Acquire Land Outlined
In 2019, the Mill Creek Park District sought to use eminent domain power to take Schlegel’s property to extend an existing bike trail. To do so, the park district filed an appropriations case in common pleas court.

An appropriations case has two parts, the opinion explained. First, a trial court considers whether a government agency may use its eminent domain power to acquire private property. If it may, a jury next determines the amount of compensation due to the landowner.

During the first step, a landowner can call for a “prompt hearing ” to challenge the agency’s right to take the land. If the court finds in favor of the agency, then the landowner can immediately appeal the decision.

Law Passed While Case Pending
As the case was pending, the General Assembly added a provision to the state’s two-year operating budget bill that said no park district “located in a county with not less than 220,000 and not more than 240,000 residents” can use its eminent domain power to acquire property for a recreational trail.

Schlegel asked the common pleas court to dismiss Mill Creek’s appropriation case because Mahoning County fell into the new law’s population range. The trial court denied the request, concluding that the law did not apply because it was enacted after the park district filed its case.

Landowner Seeks to Stop Proceedings
Schlegel sought a writ of prohibition from the Supreme Court to prevent Judge Sweeney from conducting further proceedings. To receive a writ of prohibition, a party must demonstrate that he or she lacks an adequate remedy if the trial court rules against the party or that the trial court clearly exceeded its jurisdictional authority by ruling on the matter.

Judge Sweeney argued the case should proceed and that Schlegel has an adequate remedy because he can appeal the trial court’s decision after the completion of trial.

Schlegel argued that at the time Mill Creek filed its case, the new law was not in effect, so he was not able to use it to object to Mill Creek’s effort to acquire his land. He said that his time to appeal ran out before the law was in place, and, therefore, the Supreme Court should step in and stop the proceedings.

Supreme Court Assessed Land Acquisition Law
The Court’s opinion found that Schlegel is incorrect that his right to appeal is lost. The Court noted that under Ohio law, “Schlegel may appeal from the final judgment adjudicating both the validity of the taking and the compensation.”

The Court stated that because Schlegel still has a right to appeal, the only way the Supreme Court would prohibit the case from moving forward is if the trial court “patently and unambiguously lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.”

Schlegel argued that that the new law divested the trial court of jurisdiction to consider the case. The Court observed that, in general, the common pleas courts have jurisdiction in appropriation cases and the new law “does not contain any explicit language” taking away the court’s jurisdiction. The law “limits the appropriation authority of certain park districts, not the jurisdiction of a court,” the opinion explained. Thus, the trial court had “general subject-matter jurisdiction” over the case and could exercise its own judgment to determine whether Schlegel is entitled to relief, and Schlegel could appeal that judgment. ¬†

“Because he has an adequate remedy by way of an appeal and the trial court does not patently lack jurisdiction,” the Court concluded, “Schlegel is not entitled to a writ of prohibition.”

2022-0025. Schlegel v. Sweeney, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3841.

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