Ohio Supreme Court Rules that Next Door Neighbor in Next Door Town has Standing to Challenge the Constitutionality of the Neighboring Town’s Re-Zoning

Moore v. Middletown, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio -3897

For those paying close attention to the articles in this Blog, you may recall my March 12, 2012 post entitled “Ohio Supreme Court Rules Next Door Neighbor in Next Door Town Lacks Standing to Pursue Regulatory Taking Claim.” Did the Ohio Supreme Court reverse itself in Moore v. Middletown? The short answer is no; instead, it took the opening it left itself in Clifton v. Blanchester, 131 Ohio St. 3d, 287, 2012-Ohio-780. The long answer is as follows:

In Clifton, 23 acres of land were annexed by the Village of Blanchester and then rezoned for industrial use, leaving the adjoining 97 acre farm owner in the adjacent city unhappy and claiming an adverse economic effect on his land. The court in Clifton concluded that “aside from acquiring property to operate a public utility that serves its own residents, a municipality has no authority to exercise its eminent domain powers beyond its corporate limits”. Therefore, the Village of Blanchester had no authority to “take” Mr. Clifton’s land, and accordingly, the next door neighbor (Mr. Clifton) from the next door town (Clinton County) did not have standing to initiate a claim for compensation based on a regulatory taking.

The court in Clifton, however, left its door open for future claims of standing by stating “we emphasize that we do not hold that an adjoining property owner may never have standing. Instead, we hold that a property owner lacks standing under the facts and circumstances presented here”.

Moore v. Middletown presents similar facts to the Clifton case. The Moore case arose from two ordinances enacted by the Middletown City Council. The first of those ordinances rezoned a 157 acre parcel of land from low density residential to general industrial use. The second ordinance amended a setback provision that previously required all industrial activities to be at least 600 feet from a property line. The Moores, like the Cliftons, owned adjacent property that was in an adjoining town. The Moores claimed that the rezoning was not for the benefit of the public but for the private benefit of the city’s largest employer, AK Steel Corporation (to allow for an industrial plant that would convert coal into coke for its steelmaking).

Moore brought suit against the city based on two different kinds of relief. Moore first asked that Middletown be ordered to appropriate Moore’s land and compensate the Moores for loss of value that they expected as a result of the rezoning. The second type of relief requested was a judgment calling for the rezoning ordinances to be held unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Ohio and U.S. Constitution. It is this two pronged approach in Moore that separates the two cases. Mr. Clifton did not challenge the constitutionality of the City of Blanchester’s rezoing.

The Court in Moore, consistent with its decision in Clifton, struck down the appropriation claim on the same basis that it struck down the Clifton claim. The court in Moore, however (overruling the 12th District Court of Appeals) held that the plaintiff does have standing to assert constitutional due process and equal protection claims. Citing U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the court in Moore summarized that to succeed in establishing standing for constitutional claims, plaintiffs must need only show that they 1) suffered an injury, 2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct, and 3) that the injury is likely to be redressed by the requested relief sought.

Justifying its decision, the court in Moore reminds us that Ohio expressly incorporated individual property rights into the Ohio Constitution in terms that re-enforced the important nature of an individual’s “inalienable” property rights, which ought to be held forever, “inviolate” (Ohio Constitution §19, Article 1). Since zoning ordinances can directly affect and often limit property rights, the court in Moore reasoned that property owners in Ohio (even neighboring landowners of the municipality that enacted the zoning) have the right to bring cases testing the constitutionality of zoning ordinances, including claims that the government action is arbitrary and unreasonable and bears no substantial relation to public health or safety.

The court in Moore also cautions us that the overall resolution of the case is far from over. In that regard, the Court stated: “the question before us in this appeal is whether they have a standing to do so, not whether they will succeed in their efforts”. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the trial court to determine the constitutionality of the municipality’s rezoning.

For those wondering why their attorneys draft fifty (50) page “briefs” and complaints to include multiple causes of action and alternative theories of recovery, Moore v. Middletown provides the answer. “Throwing everything at them and hoping something sticks” can be an effective strategy, especially when dealing with constitutional issues. It seems that Mr. Moore and his attorney have an uphill battle to have the rezoning declared unconstitutional, but at least their day in court continues. Stay tuned.

No comments :