Ohio Ag Law Blog -- The Weekend Read: Ohio Case Law Update

Friday, August 09th, 2019
Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, Agricultural and Resource Law Program

This weekend, as you enjoy your morning cup of coffee and find yourself wondering what’s the news in our court system, look no further than this blog post.  Every now and then there’s a new court opinion related to agricultural law that peaks our interest and makes us want to share a summary of what happened.  This week we read cases about the federal Takings Clause, wind energy, and oil and gas rights.  Here are the stories:

  • A property owner may bring a claim in federal court under the Fifth Amendment when the government has violated the Takings Clause by taking property without just compensation.  This case involved a township ordinance requiring all cemeteries to be held open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours.  A property owner with a small family graveyard was notified that she was violating the ordinance.  The property owner filed suit in state court arguing that the ordinance constituted a taking of her property, but did not seek compensation.  The township responded by saying it would withdraw the notice of violation and not enforce the ordinance against her.  The state court said that the matter was therefore resolved, but the property owner was not satisfied with that decision.  She decided to bring a takings claim in federal court.

Before this decision, there was a roadblock to bringing such claim.  Lower courts had read a previous Supreme Court decision to say that if a state or local government commits a taking, the property owner would first have to seek a remedy through the state’s adverse condemnation procedure before going to federal court.  But in doing so, the property owner would actually not have a chance to bring the claim in federal court because the federal court would have to give full faith and credit to the state court decision.  At first, that seemed like what would happen to the property owner because the state court had decided that the issue was moot since the township had agreed not to enforce the ordinance against her.  But the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the property owner by taking the rare action of overruling its prior precedent.  Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, was not an Ohio court case, but rather one that made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  To read the case, click HERE.

The final opinion handed down by the justices is certainly important, but it is also notable for Ohio because the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) submitted an amicus brief in support of the property owner through its legal counsel, Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease, LLP of Columbus.  The brief cited examples in Ohio showing that the Supreme Court’s prior precedent was causing problems for Ohio property owners by limiting their access to federal courts in Fifth Amendment takings claims.  OFBF has noted that this was the first time it had submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Ohio Power Siting Board’s approval of new wind-turbine models in facility’s certificate does not constitute an amendment to the certificate for the purposes of triggering current turbine-setback requirements.  In 2014, the Ohio Power Siting Board approved an application by Greenwich Windpark to construct a wind farm in Huron County with up to 25 wind turbines.  In the initial application, all of the wind turbines would have used the same model of turbine.  Just over a year after the application was approved, the wind farm developer applied for an amendment to add three additional models to the approved wind turbine model list, noting that the technology had advanced since its initial application.  Two of the three newer models would be larger than the originally planned model, but would occupy the same locations and would comply with the minimum setback requirements at the time the application was approved. 

The issue involved whether the new setback requirements, which were put in place by the state between the initial approval and the requested change, should apply.  An amendment to a certificate would trigger the current wind turbine setback requirements.  Greenwich Windpark wanted the less restrictive setback requirements in their initial application to still apply to the newer models, but a local group wanted the more restrictive setback requirements to apply.  The Ohio Power Siting Board said that adding the new wind turbine models would not be an amendment, and would not trigger the more restrictive setbacks.  The Ohio Supreme Court sided with the Ohio Power Siting Board, explaining that the Ohio General Assembly wanted the Ohio Power Siting Board to have broad authority to regulate wind turbines.  This case is cited as In re Application of 6011 Greenwich Winkpark, L.L.C., 2019-Ohio-2406, and is available to read on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website HERE.

  • Children claiming to be heirs of reserved oil and gas rights are in privity with previous owners of the interest when connected by an auditor’s deed specifically mentioning those interests.  The issue was whether children claiming their father’s oil and gas interests were blocked by the legal doctrine of issue preclusion from obtaining clear title to their interest when a previous Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (ODMA) lawsuit quieted title to mineral interests underlying their claim.  This preclusion would be possible because the previous owners’ interests formed the basis of the father’s interest.  Even though they were not named in the previous ODMA lawsuit, by virtue of being in privity, or legally connected, to the previous owners, the children would be bound by the previous lawsuit because the ODMA lawsuit cleared the previous owners’ interests along with any interests in their successors and assigns.  Ultimately the court found that because the children stood in their father’s shoes, and his claim would be linked to the previous owners’ claims in the land, the previous ODMA lawsuit binds the children.  This had the effect of eliminating the children’s claims in the oil and gas rights.  This case is cited as Winland v. Christman, 2019-Ohio-2408 (7th Dist.), and is available to read on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website HERE.

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