Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Bike Path Dispute Returned to Trial Court

Image of several men, women, and children riding bikes on a bike trail through a wooded area.

Dispute about park district's ability to acquire private property for bike path returned to trial court.

Image of several men, women, and children riding bikes on a bike trail through a wooded area.

Dispute about park district's ability to acquire private property for bike path returned to trial court.

A dispute regarding Mill Creek Metropolitan Park District’s right to take land from private property owners to build a bike path must return to a Mahoning County trial court for further proceedings, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that the Seventh District Court of Appeals prematurely weighed in on the controversy. The Seventh District determined that state law did not give the Mill Creek board of commissioners the right to take land by eminent domain to construct 6.4 miles of bike path.

Writing for the Court, Justice Melody Stewart stated that the Seventh District lacked jurisdiction to consider the property owners’ objections to the park district’s efforts to take the land. The trial court had yet to issue a final appealable order regarding the legal process for acquiring the land by eminent domain, Justice Stewart explained. Because the trial court had not made a decision in favor of the park district, the matter has to be further litigated before any opponent can appeal, the opinion stated.

Landowners Fight Property Acquisition
Mill Creek Metropolitan Park District is a public entity and operates under state law. In 1993, the Mill Creek board of commissioners passed a resolution to create the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway, which was to be part the Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway. The Greenway was intended to stretch over 100 miles from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

The Mill Creek bike path was designed in phases, and the first two phases involved construction of 10.6 miles of pathway. The path was built in 2000 and 2001 on abandoned railroad lines that Mill Creek acquired from a railroad company.

In 2018, Mill Creek sought to complete the third phase of the bike path and planned to construct it on land crossing private property. The park district commissioners passed a resolution allowing for the district to pay property owners for the land, and if landowners refused to sell, then the park district would attempt to acquire it through eminent domain. To take land through eminent domain, the district initiated two lawsuits in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court known as “appropriations proceedings.” The rules to conduct appropriation proceedings are outlined in R.C. Chapter 163.

The park district sought land owned by Diane Less and several other property owners. Less challenged the proceedings, arguing Mill Creek failed to show the taking of her property was necessary, which is required by state law. At an early stage in the case, Less requested summary judgment from the trial court, arguing not only was it unnecessary to take her land, but that the park district had no authority under state law to buy land to construct bike paths.

The trial court denied the summary judgment requested by Less. She appealed the denial to the Seventh District.

Appeals Court Rules Against Park District
The Seventh District considered Less’ arguments, including that under R.C. 1545.11, Mill Creek was not authorized to use eminent domain to take private property for the purpose of building bike paths. The Seventh District remanded the case to the trial court and ordered the court to end the park district’s attempt to take the private property.

Mill Creek appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Analyzed Procedural Requirements
Justice Stewart explained that before the Supreme Court could consider the merits of the case, it had to decide if it had jurisdiction to hear it. That determination turned on whether the Seventh District had the jurisdiction to hear it, the opinion stated.

The opinion explained that the Ohio Constitution empowers appeals courts to review and act on “final orders of the courts of record inferior to the court of appeals within the district.”

“Consequently, if a trial court’s order is not final and appealable, the appellate court must dismiss the appeal because it lacks jurisdiction,” the Supreme Court’s opinion stated.

Under R.C. 163.09, Less and the other landowners had the right to contest Mill Creek’s appropriation lawsuit in common pleas court. Under the law, the trial court must conduct a hearing where property owners can challenge a public entity’s right to take the land.

The common pleas court had not yet conducted the hearing when Less asked for summary judgment. Less appealed the denial of summary judgment to the Seventh District before any hearing took place, the opinion explained.

The opinion stated that, in general, the denial of summary judgment is not a final order that can be appealed. However, R.C. 163.09(B)(3) does allow for an immediate appeal of any decision in an appropriations case in favor of the public body. The Seventh District interpreted the denial of summary judgment to Less as a ruling in Mill Creek’s favor.

The Supreme Court stated that denial of summary judgment is not a ruling in favor of a party, but instead demonstrates that there are “genuine issues of material fact” that need to be resolved through further proceedings. The Court ruled that since the trial court has yet to hold a hearing, it has not ruled in favor of the park district, which meant that Less had no right to appeal.

The Court vacated the Seventh District’s decision and returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

2022-0628. Mill Creek Metro. Park Dist. Bd. of Commrs. v. Less, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-2332.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.