Eminent domain case gets sent back by the Ohio Supreme Court

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rails to trails path
The Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway in Mahoning County.

A Mahoning County landowner who is fighting an eminent domain case over a bike trial expansion lost his appeal with the state’s highest court.

The Nov. 1 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court didn’t address the issue at the heart of the case: whether Mill Creek MetroParks can take control of Edward Schlegel’s land to expand its rails-to-trails bike path through rural Green Township. The court instead batted the case back down to a lower court.

Schlegel sought to have his eminent domain case dismissed by the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court after a last-minute provision in the 2021 state budget bill would have prevented the park district from taking land for a recreational trail.

Landowners have been fighting the park district for more than three years over control of the abandoned railroad bed. The park district wants to extend its 11-mile rails-to-trails bikeway — the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway — to the south. The extension is part of a larger project to create a Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway, a system of county trails that would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

Beginning in fall 2018, Mill Creek MetroParks sued a dozen landowners in Mahoning County to secure permanent easements for the trail. Some of the landowners have settled with the park district out of court, and some have been decided by trial. There are a handful of cases outstanding.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney denied Schlegel’s request, saying the newly enacted legislation did not apply retroactively to his case.

Schlegel then filed a “writ of prohibition” to prevent Sweeney from continuing with the case. According to the Ohio Ag Law Blog, “in seeking a writ of prohibition, Schlegel had to demonstrate that the common pleas court exceeded its authority and that he had no remedy at law other than a writ of prohibition.”

Schlegel argued he lost his right to appeal because the new law became effective after the common pleas court determined the park district had eminent domain authority.

The issue is, according to the Supreme Court, that Schlegel did have another remedy. He could appeal the decision regarding compensation for the appropriation of his land. The Supreme Court ruled a writ of prohibition was not warranted. Schlegel’s case will resume in Mahoning County court.

Other case

The Ohio Supreme Court will still hear another case on the Mill Creek MetroParks bike trail. The 7th District Court of Appeals ruled in the spring that the park district did not have the power of eminent domain when it sued to get a permanent easement on the railroad bed that runs through Diane Less’s property. The park district board of commissioners appealed the decision, and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed in September to hear the case.

In the case, the appeal court explored the question of whether the creation of a public bike path constituted the “conservation of natural resources of the state” and was “conducive to the general welfare,” which would allow the park district to appropriate private land under Ohio Revised Code Statute 1545.11. 

The appeals court ruled that the Mill Creek Metroparks expansion did not fit those marks in this case, in large part because of how the bike trail would impact the rural area and the private landowners.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 724-201-1544.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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