When the Rubber Doesn’t Meet the Road: Ohio Supreme Court Sends Eminent Domain Dispute over Park Bike Path Back to Trial Court


a bike path through a wooded area

The construction of a bike path ran into a bump in the road when the Mill Creek Metropolitan Park District (Park District) attempted to take land through eminent domain. The Park District is a public entity that is attempting to create a bike path that connects to the proposed Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway that will reach over 100 miles. To complete the third phase of the project, the Park District’s Board of Commissioners authorized payments to landowners and the use of eminent domain in the case of a refused sale. The Park District initiated two proceedings in the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court (Trial Court) to take the land it could not buy, which resulted in challenges.

Diane Less, one of the landowners, sought summary judgment from the Trial Court, arguing that the taking of land for a bike path was unnecessary. Under R.C. 163.09(B)(1), the Trial Court must conduct a hearing to give landowners the chance to challenge a taking by a public entity. Immediate appeals are allowed, per R.C. 163.09(B)(3), if the decision is in favor of the public body, here the Park District. The Trial Court denied Ms. Less’ motion for summary judgment.

Less appealed to the Seventh District before a hearing was conducted at the Trial Court. Based on R.C. 1545.11, the Seventh District ruled that the Park District did not have a statutorily-authorized reason or purpose for taking the land for a bike path through eminent domain. According to the Seventh District, in remanding to the Trial Court to stop the taking, the stated recreational purpose was not enough to show that the taking conserved natural resources or promoted the general health and welfare of the public. The Park District appealed the Seventh District’s decision to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Melody Stewart, the Supreme Court did not address whether eminent domain allowed the taking of land for a bike path, instead deciding that the Seventh District lacked jurisdiction to issue the decision from which the Park District had appealed. The proper question, instead, became whether the Trial Court made a final order when it denied Ms. Less summary judgment without holding a hearing.

The Ohio Supreme Court found (consistent with existing jurisprudence) that not only is a denial of summary judgment, not a final appealable order but that here the Trial Court’s failure to hold a hearing meant the summary judgment decision was invalid. Thus, there was no decision and no right to appeal. And so, the main issue of necessity supporting eminent domain in the context of bike paths is yet to be decided, and only time will tell whether the Park District’s plans will roll or be deflated.

With thanks to Paige Trent for her contributions.

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