Ohio Farm Bureau files brief with US Supreme Court to support takings case

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A lawsuit of $350 in unclaimed funds in Michigan could impact Ohio farmers and landowners, should it make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Ohio Farm Bureau recently filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court to support the case of O’Connor v. Eubanks. Ohio Farm Bureau has a vested interest in the “takings” case that could eventually allow anyone who feels harmed by a state to sue that state in federal court.

Currently, that is not permitted in Ohio, and this has a “particularly devastating impact on Ohio farmers,” the Ohio Farm Bureau said, in its court filing.

“In Ohio, we are one of only very few states without a process called inverse condemnation, which would allow landowners to take the state through federal court in a streamlined way,” said Leah Curtis, policy counsel lawyer for the Ohio Farm Bureau.

Case background

The O’Connor case was not a property matter at all, but rather a case of unpaid funds to retired physician Dennis O’Connor, in Hemlock, Michigan, who wanted the state to pay him interest on the simple amount of $350. The court denied his request.

The takings clause of the Fifth Amendment requires just compensation be given to those whose property is taken by the state. It doesn’t matter what type of property is involved — cash, tangible land or public usage of the land — it is still known as a “taking.” If a person feels that he or she has not been compensated adequately, it is grounds for a lawsuit.

O’Connor appealed the initial rejection of his suit through the 6th Circuit Court.

Because the court would still not decide in favor of his claim, he decided to petition the highest court in the land.

Meaning

The Ohio Farm Bureau argued in its brief that the O’Connor decision contradicts a previous Supreme Court ruling in a similar case, Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania. The Ohio Farm Bureau, too, filed a brief in that case which dealt with eminent domain. It was the first time the Ohio Farm Bureau it participated in a U.S. Supreme Court case.

The 5-4 ruling in the Knick case allowed takings claims to be brought against the state in a federal court.

“The 6th Circuit closed the door to the federal courthouse that this court just re-opened in Knick,” argued the Ohio Farm Bureau in its brief in support of O’Connor, noting the financial hardships endured by farmers while their land is occupied and their legal costs mount.

The brief was filed by Curtis and Columbus-based attorney Tom Fusonie, a partner in the firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.

To deal with eminent domain cases, Ohio landowners must file a suit through a process called “writ of mandamus.”

“It is time-consuming and expensive,” Curtis said. “There is not a guarantee or even a high chance of being compensated for attorney’s fees, for example.”

Fusonie said the current Ohio writ of mandamus procedure is “clunky and cumbersome, at best.”

“It is not a streamlined remedy,” he said. “It is always piecemeal and it simply is not adequate.”

Fusonie said that Ohio is behind the times and that, with the Ohio Farm Bureau behind the filing of this brief, it just may elevate the case before the Supreme Court enough so that the court will agree to hear it.

Curtis wants to get the attention of the highest court in the land because it would encourage farmers who feel they have been wronged in any kind of takings to bring a lawsuit.

At this time, she thinks that many farmers and landowners feel it is futile to do so because it would not be worth their time and money. Lawsuits can take many years to be decided. Those bringing suits feel stuck by a system that is both antiquated and balanced against them.

Future

There are over 7,000 cases annually brought before the Supreme Court. They choose to hear somewhere between 100 and 150 of those cases.

Fusonie knows those odds, but he believes that this is something that needs to be fixed. The brief, which he was the lead writer on, was a collaborative effort and it is a rather short 14 pages in length. Many briefs filed with the court can reach up to 50 pages.

He said they weren’t out to reinvent the wheel but rather to highlight the need for a fresh approach to giving landowners, particularly, a remedy that doesn’t discourage them from the outset and which may be inherently unfair.

Curtis said that she expects to discover whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the case sometime this coming fall. If indeed the court accepts the case, it would likely be argued in early 2025, with a decision made in mid-2025.

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