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Case watch: Lake Erie Bill of Rights battle ends

Written by Peggy Kirk Hall and Ellen Essman

In the not-too-surprising news category, a federal court has invalidated the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) that Toledo residents passed last year to recognize and protect legal rights for Lake Erie.  What is surprising, however, is how the court reached its decision to strike down LEBOR, even in the wake of a law passed by the Ohio legislature in July of 2019 that denies legal standing right to nature and prevents a person from bringing a court action on behalf of nature or any ecosystem.

The verdict came exactly one year after Drewes Farm Partnership filed its federal lawsuit to prevent enforcement of LEBOR a day after Toledoans passed the measure.  Drewes Farm asserted that LEBOR violated the farm’s rights under the First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause, and Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.  Drewes Farm also argued that LEBOR exceeded the City of Toledo’s authority because it usurped the power of the state and the federal government by interfering with international relations, invalidating state and federal permits, invalidating state law, altering the rights of corporations, and creating new causes of action in state courts.  In April 2019, the state of Ohio joined the lawsuit as a fellow plaintiff.  Proponents of LEBOR unsuccessfully attempted to join in the litigation.

Did the plaintiffs have the right to bring the case?

The opinion begins with the court’s “standing” analysis.  Toledo argued that Drewes Farm and Ohio did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit against the City.  Legal standing requires that a plaintiff (1) suffers an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.  Failing to meet the legal standing requirement would force dismissal of the lawsuit.  Without a finding in favor of legal standing, the court wouldn’t be able to determine LEBOR’s validity.

The central issue in whether the parties had legal standing was the injury in fact requirement, according to the court.  To challenge LEBOR, the plaintiffs must demonstrate “concrete and particularized” injury that is “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.”  The court determined that the state of Ohio met this requirement because it suffered an injury, “at least on paper,” from LEBOR’s invalidation of Ohio laws, regulations, licenses and permits and because the state “could” be sued under LEBOR.  The judge also found that Drewes Farm demonstrated injury in fact since any Toledo resident “could” sue the farm for violating LEBOR.

In its brief attention to the second component of standing, that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant, the court determined that the potential injuries were traceable to Toledo because its city charter was amended by voters to include the LEBOR language.  Even though the City itself did not legislatively enact LEBOR, had actually attempted to keep the issue off the ballot due to concerns that it was unconstitutional, and had not indicated any intent to enforce LEBOR, the court concluded that “the City is a proper defendant in the suit.”  The court also found that invalidating LEBOR would redress the plaintiffs’ injuries, the final requirement for legal standing.

LEBOR violates due process

The court next directly examined only one of the many constitutional claims against LEBOR, the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to due process, and specifically focused on one element of due process:  clarity of the law.  The court stated that if a law is vague and unclear, it can “trap the innocent by not providing fair warning and invite arbitrary enforcement by prosecutors, judges, and juries.”  Pointing to language in LEBOR such as the right of Lake Erie and its watershed to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve,” and Toledoans’ right to a “clean and healthy environment,” the court questioned what type of conduct would violate the broad language and how a judge or jury would determine the line between “clean and unclean and healthy and unhealthy.”  Spreading even a small amount of fertilizer could possibly violate LEBOR, the court said, as well as countless other activities such as catching fish, pulling weeds, planting corn, or driving a gas-powered vehicle.  Not surprisingly, the court concluded that the language is void for vagueness.  While LEBOR’s language sounds powerful, the court explained, it has no practical meaning, contains merely “aspirational statements” rather than rules of law, and violates constitutional due process.

What about other constitutional claims?

The court surprisingly didn’t tackle the many other constitutional issues raised by Drewes Farm and the State.  But in its “severability” analysis, the court did briefly touch on the constitutionality of LEBOR’s preemption of state and federal laws.  LEBOR contains a severability clause stating that a determination of one part of LEBOR as invalid does not invalidate the remaining parts of LEBOR.  According to the court, this severability clause is valid only if the constitutional and unconstitutional parts of LEBOR are capable of separation and can stand by themselves.  The court concluded that once the vague rights are stripped away, the remaining parts of LEBOR are meaningless.

The court then took the opportunity to note that LEBOR’s attempt to preempt Ohio law in the name of environmental protection would fail on its own merits.  Lake Erie’s health falls well beyond Toledo’s authority and rights to govern its internal affairs, and enacting laws that conflict with Ohio law is a “textbook example of what municipal government cannot do,” said the court.

Protecting Lake Erie is a worthy goal

In a slightly sympathetic nod to LEBOR supporters “frustrated by the status quo,” the court notes that using a democratic process to protect Lake Erie is a well-intentioned goal but LEBOR simply fails to achieve the goal.  Careful drafting by Toledoans could result in valid legislation that would reduce water pollution, the court explains, while highlighting an ordinance in Madison, Wisconsin that restricted the use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers in the city and withstood a legal challenge.

It comes as no surprise

Echoing what many had already concluded, the court criticized LEBOR’s authors for ignoring legal principals and constitutional limitations and stated that LEBOR’s invalidation should come as no surprise.  “This is not a close call,” the court says.  “LEBOR is unconstitutionally vague and exceeds the power of municipal government in Ohio.  It is therefore invalid in its entirety.”

Now what?

LEBOR has met the end of its road, but it never really stood a chance of actual enforcement due to its clearly unconstitutional language.  LEBOR’s proponents often claimed that the purposes of LEBOR were to gain more attention to Lake Erie’s poor water quality and to push the concept of recognizing legal rights for nature and ecosystems a bit further down the road.  Were they successful?  Will Toledoans give up, or will they regroup and carefully draft new legislation to protect their water?

Farmers in Ohio now have absolute certainty that they will not be sued for violating Lake Erie’s “rights,” but such a lawsuit never really stood a chance of actual success due to LEBOR’s clearly unconstitutional language.  And let’s not forget the new language in Ohio Revised Code §2305.01 stating that “nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate in or bring an action in any court of common pleas; no person, on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem, shall bring an action in any court of common pleas; and no person shall bring an action in any court of common pleas against a person who is acting on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem.”

And what about Lake Erie’s water quality?  New voluntary programs are rolling out from Governor DeWine’s H2Ohio plan.  But many claim that more forceful measures are necessary.  Other litigation over the lake’s water quality lingers, and Ohio has listed the Western Lake Erie Basin as “impaired” and must develop a plan to address Total Maximum Daily Loads of pollutants in the lake.  It’s no surprise that even though it’s the end of the road for LEBOR, conflicts over solving Lake Erie’s water quality problems will continue.

Read the U.S. District Court’s opinion on LEBOR here.  For our in-depth look at LEBOR, click here.  We review other Lake Erie legal activities here.

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OHIO AG LAW BLOG—Case watch: LEBOR and Lake Erie battles linger

Written by Ellen Essman, Senior Research Associate, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

It’s been a while since we’ve written about the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR)! As a refresher, LEBOR was passed in February in a special election as an amendment to Toledo’s city charter.  LEBOR was meant to create new legal rights for Lake Erie, the Lake Erie ecosystem, and to give Toledo citizens the ability to sue to enforce those legal rights against a government or a corporation violating them.  For a longer explanation on LEBOR, see our post here.  Since then, lawsuits for and against LEBOR have been filed, and the state of Ohio has passed legislation concerning the language in LEBOR. Updates on those actions will be discussed below.

Update on the Drewes Farm lawsuit

The day after LEBOR passed, Drewes Farm Partnership initiated a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, against the city of Toledo. Our initial blog posts concerning this lawsuit are available here and here.  In May, we discussed updates to the Drewes Farm lawsuit in yet another blog post.  Since our last update, the Lake Erie Ecosystem and TSW’s motion to stay pending appeal and the appeal were both denied, meaning the Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision to leave the ecosystem and TSW out of the lawsuit.  As a result, the current parties to the lawsuit are plaintiffs Drewes Farm Partnership and the State of Ohio, as well as the defendant City of Toledo.  In early June, both the Drewes Farm Partnership and the state of Ohio filed motions for judgement on the pleadings.  The district court has not yet determined whether to grant the motions; the City of Toledo’s response to the motions is due on August 9, 2019.  After the response is filed, the plaintiffs will have a chance to reply.

Toledo Citizens file lawsuit against State of Ohio

In the midst of the Drewes Farm lawsuit, yet another complaint has been filed concerning LEBOR.  On June 27, 2019, three citizens of Toledo filed a complaint against the state of Ohio in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas.  In the complaint, the citizens, who all voted for LEBOR, asked the court to find that the state has failed to address pollution in Lake Erie, and due to its inaction, circumstances in the lake are getting worse, that LEBOR is enforceable under the Ohio Constitution and state law, and to issue an injunction to prevent the state from curtailing their rights under LEBOR.  Currently, it appears as though no response has been filed by the state of Ohio.  Perhaps the state wants to let recently passed legislation do the talking.

State budget bill includes language aiming to invalidate LEBOR, adds water quality initiative

Finally, the Ohio General Assembly has also gotten in on the LEBOR action.  On July 18, 2019, Governor DeWine signed the General Assembly’s budget bill into law.  Page 482 contains language that seems to be aimed at LEBOR and other environmental community rights initiatives.  Most importantly, the bill states:

  • Nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate or bring an action in any court of common pleas.

  • No person, on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem, shall bring an action in any court of common pleas.

It will be interesting to see how courts handle lawsuits on behalf of ecosystems and nature after the passage of this budget law.

While the budget bill appears to take LEBOR and initiatives like it head-on, it also created a water quality initiative called “H2Ohio,” which includes a fund in the state treasury.  The money in the H2Ohio fund will go toward water quality improvement projects, including projects to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution from agricultural practices.  With this initiative, the state seems to be offering an alternative way to protect its waters, including Lake Erie.

Work continues on sorting out the legality of LEBOR and the wider problem of Lake Erie pollution, and there appears to be no end in sight. Keep an eye on the Ohio Ag Law Blog for new developments on LEBOR lawsuits and the H2Ohio program!

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Budget bill brings changes to Ohio’s Right to Farm law

The funny thing about a “budget bill” is that it’s not all about the budget.  Many laws that are not related to the budget are created or revised within a budget bill.  That’s the case with Ohio’s HB 166, the “budget bill” signed on August 18 by Governor Dewine.  In the midst of the bill’s 2,602 pages are revisions to an important law for agricultural landowners—the “Right to Farm” Law.

Ohio’s Right to Farm Law, also referred to as the “Agricultural District Program,” provides immunity from a civil nuisance claim made by those who move near an existing farm.  To receive the immunity under the old law, the land must be enrolled as an “agricultural district” with the county auditor, agricultural activities have to be in place first, i.e., before the complaining party obtained its property interest, and the agricultural activities must not be in conflict with laws that apply to them or must be conducted according to generally accepted agricultural practices.  The immunity comes in the form of an affirmative defense that a farmer can raise if sued for nuisance due to agricultural activities such as noise, odors, dust, and other potential interferences with neighbors.  If the landowner can prove that the activities are covered by the Right to Farm law, the law requires dismissal of the nuisance lawsuit.  For years, we’ve been encouraging farmers to enroll land in this program to protect themselves from those who move out near a farm and then complain that the farming activities are a nuisance.

The new revisions to the law in the budget bill change the requirements for the land and agricultural activities that can receive Right to Farm immunity.  In addition to protecting agricultural activities on land that is enrolled with the county auditor as agricultural district land, the law will now also protect the following from nuisance claims:

  • Agricultural activities on land devoted exclusively to agricultural use in accordance with section 5713.30 of the Revised Code, which is Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation Program (CAUV), and
  • Agricultural activities conducted by a person pursuant to a lease agreement, written or otherwise.

These two provisions significantly expand the geographic scope of the Right to Farm law.   A landowner may not have to take the step to actively enroll and re-enroll land in the agricultural district program in order to obtain Right to Farm immunity.  Instead, the agricultural activities are automatically covered by the Right to Farm law if the land is enrolled in Ohio’s CAUV property tax reduction program or is under a lease agreement, presumably a farmland lease, whether that lease is in writing or is verbal.  This means that any land in Ohio that is actively being used for commercial agricultural production will likely qualify for the Right to Farm law’s nuisance protection.

The budget bill also added new language to the Right to Farm law that clarifies that “agricultural activities” means “common agricultural practices.”  The law specifically includes the following as “common agricultural practices:”

  • The cultivation of crops or changing crop rotation;
  • Raising of livestock or changing the species of livestock raised;
  • Entering into and operating under a livestock contract;
  • The storage and application of commercial fertilizer;
  • The storage and application of manure;
  • The storage and application of pesticides and other chemicals commonly used in agriculture;
  • A change in corporate structure or ownership;
  • An expansion, contraction, or change in operations;
  • Any agricultural practice that is acceptable by local custom.

This new language answers a question that we’ve long heard from farmers:  if I expand my farming operation or change it from the farming activities that I, my parents or grandparents have always done, will I still have Right to Farm protection?  We couldn’t answer this question with assurance because the law is unclear about whether it would also protect such changes.  Under the new law, the answer is clear:  transitions to new or expanded agricultural activities will also receive Right to Farm immunity.  The law also states that certain practices, such as storing and applying fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and manure, are “common agricultural practices.”

The final change to the Right to Farm law concerns a provision that addresses farmers suing other farmers for nuisance.  Under the old law, Right to Farm immunity does not apply if the plaintiff who brings the nuisance law suit is also involved in agricultural production.  That is, farmers don’t receive Right to Farm protection from nuisance claims by other farmers.  The new law removes this provision.  Under the revised law, farmers will be able to raise the Right to Farm law as an affirmative defense if sued for nuisance by another agricultural producer.

Many lawmakers who were focused on understanding and negotiating the financial provisions in Ohio’s recent budget bill may have missed the inclusion of changes to our Right to Farm law in the bill.  Even so, with the passage of the budget bill, the legislature significantly expanded the reach of the Right to Farm Law and agricultural activities in Ohio now have broad protections from nuisance lawsuits.

Find the changes to Ohio’s Right to Farm Law–Ohio Revised Code 929.04, on pages 308 and 309 of HB 177, which is available on this page.

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The Ag Law Harvest

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The OSU Extension Farm Office team has returned from the National Farm Business Conference in Wisconsin.  We gained some fresh perspective on events beyond Ohio’s borders, but are happy to be back in slightly warmer weather.  Our colleagues from across the nation presented on a variety of farm management topics, and we had a chance to discuss some of our recent projects.  We also toured a number of dairy and agritourism farms, and of course ate lots of cheese curds.  The fresh perspective means that it is time for a fresh Ag Law Harvest.

Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

OSU Extension Ag Law Team featured on Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast.  Recently we had a chance to talk with OSU Extension Educators Amanda Douridas and Elizabeth Hawkins, who together moderate the bi-weekly Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast for OSU Extension.  We discussed the status of Ohio’s hemp bill and what we expect to happen in the near future with hemp regulation and production.  Then we provided an update on the Drewes Farm Partnership v. City of Toledo lawsuit, which grapples with the legality of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.  Click HERE to listen to the podcast, and look for episode 28.

Minnesota focuses new commercial nitrogen fertilizer regulations on drinking water quality.  In an effort to protect public drinking water sources, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has chosen to regulate the commercial application of fertilizer.  The state has long regulated the application of manure, but not commercial nitrogen.  The regulations focus on two types of geographic areas: regions with vulnerable soil (coarse soils, karst geology, or shallow bedrock) and farms located in Drinking Water Supply Management Areas.  These management areas are designated based upon nitrate levels found in the drinking water.  Starting in 2020, the state will ban the application of commercial nitrogen in these areas during the fall months and on frozen ground.  Farms in any of the 30 Drinking Water Supply Management Areas would have to follow best management practices to start, but if nitrate levels continue to exceed state limits, then the state may impose additional restrictions in an area to reduce nitrogen pollution.  For more information on Minnesota’s Groundwater Protection Rule, click HERE.

Federal court puts a hold on Bud Light’s “100 percent less corn syrup” ads.  If they missed seeing it live during the Super Bowl, most people in the agricultural industry have at least seen the recent Bud Light advertising campaign that claims the beer uses no corn syrup while its competitors do.  Shortly after the initial release of the ad, MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch, which makes Bud Light.  MillerCoors wants a permanent injunction that would stop Bud Light from continuing its corn syrup advertising campaign, arguing that the advertisements are false and misleading to consumers.  The first step to a permanent injunction is often a preliminary injunction, which makes a party act or not act in a certain way only while the case is pending.  The judge presiding over the lawsuit granted MillerCoors’ motion for a preliminary injunction in part.  The judge ordered Anheuser-Busch to temporarily stop using ads mentioning corn syrup if those ads do not contain language explaining that Bud Light does not use corn syrup in the brewing process.  The judge’s act does not ban the ad that premiered during the Super Bowl.  Rather it only blocks ads released later that claim Bud Light uses 100 percent less corn syrup than competitors like MillerCoors.  Click HERE to view the complaint, and HERE to view the judge’s order.

It’s (mostly) official: USDA’s ERS and NIFA are headed to Kansas City.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the USDA’s selection of the Kansas City, Missouri region as the new headquarters for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  The location changed caused a great deal of controversy as some viewed it as a political move.  However, the USDA has maintained that relocation will save millions of dollars over the next few years and put the agencies closer to a number of other USDA offices in Kansas City, such as the Farm Service Agency’s Commodity Operations Office.  The Secretary reduced some of the controversy by scrapping plans to place the agencies under the USDA’s Chief Economist, who is a political appointee.  Before we call the move a done deal, we must note that Congress could stop the plans.  The U.S. House of Representatives might block the move via a Department of Agriculture-FDA spending bill currently under consideration.  Click HERE to read Secretary Perdue’s press release.

Bayer announces multi-billion dollar hunt for glyphosate replacement.  Somewhat buried in a press release titled “Bayer raises the bar in transparency, sustainability and engagement,” Bayer recently announced a substantial investment in its weed management research.  Over the next ten years, the company plans to spend 5 billion euros, or roughly 5.6 billion U.S. dollars, to develop weed control products as alternatives to glyphosate.  The announcement comes at a time with thousands of plaintiffs across the United States have claimed that the widely-used glyphosate caused their cancer.  As we have previously discussed in the Ag Law Blog, the first three juries have in total awarded plaintiffs billions of dollars in damages.  Bayer continues to fight the allegations and defend its product, but the press release marks the first time that Bayer has publically announced a search for an alternative to glyphosate.  It remains to be seen whether the press release could have an impact in the lawsuits, but Bayer will likely try to keep the press release out of the trials by using court rules of evidence.

Ohio House passes amusement ride safety bill.  County fair season has officially kicked off in Ohio, and some state lawmakers want to make sure that amusement rides at those fairs are safe.  House Bill 189 seeks to heighten Ohio’s amusement ride safety inspection standards and impose additional duties on amusement ride owners.  The bill would require the Ohio Department of Agriculture to adopt ride classification rules that identify types of rides needing more comprehensive inspection, along with the minimum number of inspectors and number of inspections for each ride.  Further, the bill would require amusement ride owners to keep a manual for each amusement ride, and make it available upon request of an inspector.  Amusement ride owners would also have to keep records, including documents and photographs, of all major repairs along with all locations where the owner stored or operated each ride.  The bill includes an emergency clause, which would allow it to take effect as soon as the Governor signs it.  Lawmakers named the bill “Tyler’s Law” after the young man who died following an equipment breakdown at the Ohio State Fair in 2017.  Click HERE for more information about the bill.

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Ohio Ag Law Blog — Case Watch: The Lake Erie Bill of Rights Lawsuit

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Lawsuits can be a long and drawn out process, and the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) lawsuit has demonstrated that.  Two and a half months after the complaint in Drewes Farm Partnership v. City of Toledo was filed by the farm, which parties will be allowed to participate in the lawsuit is becoming somewhat clearer, but it might not be over yet.  However, a conference call between the court and the current parties scheduled for the end of this week may signal that some substantive action is on the horizon.

The State of Ohio is now a party.  Judge Zouhary granted Ohio Attorney General Yost’s motion to intervene, making the State of Ohio a party to the lawsuit.  The procedural rules for federal courts permit non-parties to ask a court to allow them into a lawsuit either as of right or at the judge’s discretion.  As of right means that a statute, rule, or case gives a non-party a right to enter into a lawsuit as a party.  In contrast, a discretionary intervention allows a judge to grant a motion to intervene at his or her discretion so long as the person or entity seeking to intervene has a “common question of law or fact” with a current party to the lawsuit.  Non-parties often argue both in order to cover all of their bases, which is what the Ohio Attorney General did in this case.  Judge Zouhary focused his analysis on discretionary intervention, and found that the state has asserted the same question as the plaintiff, Drewes Farms, in that Ohio’s constitution, statutes, and administrative regulations preempt the LEBOR amendment to Toledo’s city charter.  The court also noted that the City of Toledo did not oppose the state’s intervention.  Based on these points, the court granted the motion to intervene.  The State of Ohio may now make arguments and participate in the lawsuit as a full party.

Lake Erie Ecosystem and Toledoans for Safe Water are denied party status.  Days after allowing the Ohio Attorney General’s intervention, Judge Zouhary decided that neither Lake Erie nor Toledoans for Safe Water will be allowed to intervene as parties.  Much like the Ohio Attorney General, these non-parties made arguments to support both forms of intervention.  Judge Zouhary believed that neither Lake Erie nor Toledoans for Safe Water met the requirements for either form of intervention.  As for Toledoans for Safe Water, the court found that it had no right to intervene since it does not have a substantial interest in defending the charter amendment.  Just being the group that put LEBOR on the ballot is not enough.  Further, since the group recognized that its arguments about the rights of nature are novel and not currently recognized in U.S. law, allowing the party to intervene and make these arguments would cause undue delay.  As for Lake Erie, Judge Zouhary noted that the only basis for intervention cited in the motion was LEBOR itself, and that LEBOR only gave Lake Erie the right to enforce its rights in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas.  Therefore, neither Lake Erie nor Toledoans for Safe Water will be able to participate in the lawsuit at this time.

But Lake Erie Ecosystem and Toledoans for Safe Water still want in.  Shortly after their motions to intervene were denied, Lake Erie and Toledoans for Safe Water filed two documents with the court: a motion to stay pending appeal and a notice of appeal.  First, the motion to stay pending appeal asks the court to pause the proceedings while the non-parties ask an appellate court to review Judge Zouhary’s decision.  Their hope is that no decisions would be made in their absence should the appellate court decide that their intervention should be granted.  Drewes Farm has already filed a brief in opposition to the motion to stay, which asks the court to continue the case as quickly as possible.  Second, the notice of appeal is a required notice to the court and the parties that an appeal of a judge’s decision has been made to the U.S. Sixth Circuit.  An appeal of this sort, especially one involving a discretionary act, imposes a high burden on the appellant in order to succeed.

Conference call set for Friday, May 17th regarding a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.  On May 7th, Judge Zouhary issued an order stating that the parties must submit letters in a joint filing regarding a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.  Our case law updates often talk about motions for summary judgment, but motions for judgment on the pleadings are less frequently discussed.  Motions for judgment on the pleadings are requests for the court to make a decision after a complaint and answer (and, when allowed, a reply) have been filed.  The court can make a decision at this stage only if it finds that there is no real dispute about the facts.  The parties essentially agree about what happened, and all the court has to decide is how the law applies to the facts in the pleadings.  A motion for summary judgment generally involves the presentation of additional facts that were not included in the pleadings, but makes a similar request.  The court can grant a motion for judgment on the pleadings in part, which means that some of the case will be resolved and some will continue, but these motions can also be used to end the entire case.

It would be quite interesting to be a fly on the wall during the conference call scheduled for this Friday.  It seems likely that we will hear about it soon after.  However, this conference call does not necessarily mean that this case, or even LEBOR, will be over soon.  Stay tuned to the Ohio Ag Law Blog for more case updates.

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Case Watch: The Lake Erie Bill of Rights Lawsuit

The media storm that surrounded the controversial Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) has quieted, but the federal lawsuit over LEBOR has heated up.  Just a month ago, Toledo residents voted to approve LEBOR.  The measure establishes rights within the City’s charter for the Lake Erie Ecosystem to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve” as well as rights to self-government and a clean and healthy environment for the citizens of Toledo.  LEBOR states that corporations or governments that violate these rights can be liable for harm caused and also cannot use existing federal and state laws or permits in defense of the violations.   Drewes Farm Partnership filed a lawsuit in federal court the day after LEBOR passed.  The farm’s complaint asks a federal court to declare LEBOR unconstitutional on several grounds and also claims that LEBOR violates state laws.   Recent developments in the past week prompted us to provide this quick update on the lawsuit:

City of Toledo agrees to a preliminary injunction.  The court announced on March 18 that the City of Toledo agreed to the entry of a Preliminary Injunction Order.  Drewes Farm requested the injunction when it filed the lawsuit.  The court stated that the purpose of a preliminary injunction “is merely to preserve the relative positions of the parties until a trial on the merits can be held” and noted that the City of Toledo has not “commenced or initiated any action against Drewes Farms or others pursuant to LEBOR.”  Toledo therefore agreed to the injunction and to maintain its current position of not taking any action to enforce LEBOR.

Lake Erie Ecosystem and Toledoans for Safe Water ask to join the lawsuit.    Also on March 18, two attorneys filed a motion asking the court to allow the Lake Erie Ecosystem and the Toledoans for Safe Water to “intervene” in the case as defendants.  Federal rules allow a party to file a motion to intervene and become a party to ongoing litigation as either a matter of right or with permission of the court.  The attorneys argue that the parties should be allowed to intervene as of right because they have significant legal interests that will be impaired by the case and that the City of Toledo can’t adequately represent those interests.  They also ask the court to allow permissive intervention because the parties have a claim or defense that share a common question of law or fact with the main action.  The court has asked Drewes Farm and Toledo to file briefs in response to the motion to intervene. Note that the two attorneys representing the Lake Erie Ecosystem and the Toledoans for Safe Water have worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the organization that assisted with the petition initiative that resulted in the adoption of LEBOR.

Lake Erie Ecosystem and Toledoans for Safe Water file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.  On the same day as filing a motion to intervene, the attorneys also filed a motion to dismiss the case on behalf of the Lake Erie Ecosystem and Toledoans for Safe Water.  The motion argues that Drewes Farm does not have legal “standing” to bring the case, which is based upon federal constitutional law that states that a federal court cannot have jurisdiction over a case unless the plaintiff demonstrates that he or she has suffered concrete and particularized “injury in fact” that is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct and that the requested remedies will redress the alleged injuries.  Lake Erie and the Toledoans for Safe Water argue that Drewes Farm has not stated a concrete injury or actual or imminent harm due to LEBOR and therefore cannot meet the standing requirement.

City of Toledo files its answer to the complaint.  Yesterday, the City of Toledo filed its answer to the complaint filed against it by Drewes Farm.  Toledo presents sixteen defenses to the farm’s allegations, which include a general denial of the complaint and other defenses based upon arguments that:  the farm does not have legal standing, has not stated a claim or stated actual or imminent harm and has based its harm on premature speculation; that the City itself is immune and has acted properly, in good faith, and as authorized or required by law to act; that the relief requested by the farm would violate the rights of the citizens of Toledo; that the farm has a duty to mitigate its damages; and that the farm failed to join necessary parties and has not stated a basis for the relief requested.   Toledo asks the court to dismiss the case and award all costs of the lawsuit to the City of Toledo.

What’s next? Now the parties must wait for the court to act on the motion to intervene, motion to dismiss, and/or the City of Toledo’s request to dismiss the case.  We’ll keep watching the case and will let you know when the court makes a ruling on any of these requests.

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The Legal Challenges to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights Begin

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Toledo’s Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) has been in the headlines a lot lately, and certainly on the minds of farmers in the Lake Erie watershed.  So far, the Ag Law Blog has focused attention on what LEBOR iswhy it was on the ballot, and what types of defenses agricultural producers can raise if sued.  Because voters approved the ballot measure, the focus now shifts to how LEBOR will be treated in the courts.

On February 26th, Toledo held a special election, with one of the ballot questions being whether to amend the City of Toledo’s charter to adopt LEBOR.  While less than 9 percent of Toledo’s registered voters cast a ballot, the majority of those who did voted in favor of amending the city’s charter to include LEBOR.

On February 27th, the Drewes Farm Partnership filed a complaint and initiated a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Toledo.  Family owned and operated, this Wood County based grain farm operates wholly within the Lake Erie watershed.  Drewes Farm utilizes both manure and commercial fertilizers, and states in its complaint that it follows industry best practices, scientific recommendations, and all legal requirements such as keeping records and not applying fertilizer on snow covered ground.  Two of the family members obtained Fertilizer Applicator Certificates, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture certified the farm under its Ohio Agricultural Stewardship Verification Program.

The complaint specifically alleges violations of Drewes Farm’s rights under the First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause, and Due Process Clauses of both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.  Further, the complaint argues that LEBOR exceeds the City of Toledo’s authority by intruding on state and federal powers by attempting to meddle with international relations, invalidate state and federal permits, invalidate state law, alter the rights of corporations, and create new causes of action in state courts.  Drewes Farm requests that the court 1) grant it a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent LEBOR’s enforcement, 2) invalidate LEBOR, and 3) grant the plaintiff an award for costs and fees.

The following day, Drewes Farm filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.  Parties use preliminary injunctions as a way to enforce the status quo and prevent the other parties from acting in a way that would cause further harm.  If granted, the preliminary injunction would prevent the enforcement of LEBOR against the Drewes Farm Partnership during the course of the litigation.  At the end of the case, there would be a determination of whether Drewes Farm should receive a permanent injunction, which would prevent LEBOR from being enforced against it after the case has ended.

The party who brings the motion must argue and prove four elements in order for the court to grant the motion for a preliminary injunction:

First, that the movant has a likelihood of success on the merits, meaning that it is likely that the movant will win the underlying case.  Drewes Farm’s motion examines each of the grounds that it believes violates its constitutional rights and state and federal law.  Drewes Farm argues that it can win on each of the dozen grounds it examines, and that it need only show a likelihood of success on one ground to satisfy this element.

Second, that the movant could suffer irreparable harm without a preliminary injunction, meaning that without a preliminary injunction, the other party may take action to harm the movant in a way that it will not be able to recover.  Here, Drewes Farm cites court cases explaining that the loss of one’s constitutional rights for any amount of time constitutes irreparable harm, and that a likelihood of success also demonstrates irreparable harm.

Third, that the issuance of an injunction will not cause greater harm.  This element balances the previous element to see whether the injunction is fair.  Where the second element looks at the harm to the movant, the third element looks at whether a preliminary injunction will harm others.  Here, Drewes Farm argues that others will not be harmed by the granting of a preliminary injunction because it will merely allow the farm to continue operating as required under the law and its permits using best practices.  Further, Drewes Farm mentions that the other farms in the watershed will actually experience a benefit from the prevention of LEBOR’s enforcement.

Fourth, that the issuance of a preliminary injunction would serve the public interest.  Here, Drewes Farm cites additional court cases explaining that the enforcement of constitutional rights is inherently in the public interest.  Further, it argues that the State of Ohio holds its portion of Lake Erie in trust “for all Ohio citizens, not just those residing in a single municipality.”

If the court is satisfied that Drewes Farm has established each of the four elements, it may grant a preliminary injunction.

At this time, the City of Toledo has not filed any responses to the complaint or motion; however, procedural rules require it to respond in a timely manner.  Because it has not filed anything with the court, it is unclear how the City of Toledo intends to defend or respond.  However, since enforcement of LEBOR had not been commenced against the Drewes Farm Partnership, it is possible that Toledo will challenge the plaintiff’s standing to sue at the present time.

The case is cited in court records as Drewes Farm Partnership v. City of Toledo, Ohio, 3:19-cv-00343 (N.D. Ohio).  Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for updates about the case.

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In the Weeds: Taking a Closer Look at the Lake Erie Bill of Rights

Lake Erie once again made headlines when the Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” (LEBOR) initiative could be placed on the Toledo ballot on February 26, 2019.  The decision raised alarm in Ohio’s agricultural community and fears that, if passed, the measure will result in litigation for farmers in the Lake Erie watershed.

The OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law Program took a close look at LEBOR.  Specifically, we wanted to know:

  • What does Toledo’s Lake Erie Bill of Rights petition mean?
  • What does the petition language say?
  • What happened in the legal challenges to keep the petition off the ballot?
  • Have similar efforts been successful, and if not, why not?
  • Who has rights in Lake Erie?
  • What rights do business entities have?

We examine all of these questions, plus a number of frequently asked questions, in a new format called “In the Weeds.”  While many of our readers know of our blog posts and law bulletins, explaining this issue required something different.  Using “In the Weeds” is a way for us to dig into a current legal issue more in depth.

For answers to the questions above and more, CLICK HERE to view the new “In the Weeds: The Lake Erie Bill of Rights Ballot Initiative.”

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Lake Erie Bill of Rights issue to go to Toledo voters

Written by Ellen Essman, Senior Research Associate

The Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” initiative could be placed before Toledo residents in a special election February 26, 2019.   The Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) is a proposed amendment to the Toledo City Charter.  Josh Abernathy, an opponent to the initiative, brought the lawsuit, seeking a “writ of prohibition”—meaning he wanted the Ohio Supreme Court to determine that the Lucas County Board of Elections must remove LEBOR from the special election ballot.

The Supreme Court began its analysis in the case by explaining that in order to obtain a writ of prohibition in an election case, the party bringing suit must prove all of the following:

  • The board of elections exercised quasi-judicial power,
  • The exercise of that power was unlawful, and
  • The party bringing suit has no adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

The Supreme Court examined the three elements in reverse order.  It quickly answered the third element in the affirmative—reasoning that because the election was so imminent, Abernathy did “not have an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law,” because any other suit, such as an injunction, would not be finished prior to the election.

The Supreme Court determined that the second element was not satisfied.  It reasoned that the “exercise of power” was not “unlawful,” because “a board of elections has no legal authority to review the substance of a proposed charter amendment and has no discretion to block the measure from the ballot based on an assessment of its suitability.”  In doing so, the Supreme Court pointed to past cases it had decided, as well as the language in Article XVIII, Section 9 of the Ohio Constitution, which must be read with Section 8, both provided above.  Section 9 says that a charter amendment can “be submitted to” the voters “by a two-thirds vote of the legislative authority,” as well as through a petition signed by 10 percent of the voters in the municipality.  Then, as is explained above, the board of elections must pass an ordinance to include the proposed amendment on the ballot.  After that, the Supreme Court found, based on precedent and the language of the Constitution, the only responsibility of the board of elections is to put the charter amendment on the ballot—the board has no other authority.

Finally, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that since the second element was not met, there was no reason to address the first element—whether or not “the board’s exercise of authority was quasi-judicial.”  Abernathy also argued that the board of elections should not have put LEBOR on the ballot due to the doctrine of claim preclusion—meaning that since the Court had already decided a case concerning LEBOR, the board should not have the power to place it on the ballot afterwards.  The Supreme Court disagreed, pointing once again to the language in the Ohio Constitution, which effectively says that “the board had no power to keep the proposed charter amendment off the ballot for any reason, including claim preclusion.” In sum, the Supreme Court decided that based on a reading of case law and the Ohio Constitution, the board of elections in Toledo had no option other than placing LEBOR on the ballot.  This outcome does not necessarily mean that if Toledo passes LEBOR, it is a done deal; if and when it passes, courts could determine it is unconstitutional and/or beyond the scope of the city’s power.

The case is cited as State ex rel. Abernathy v. Lucas Cty. Bd. Of Elections, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-201, and the opinion is available at https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2019/2019-Ohio-201.pdf.

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