Tenth District: Columbus Can Close Hotel Known for Drug Deals and Prostitution for One Year
The city of Columbus was within its rights to declare a hotel — where a patron was running a methamphetamine lab and 10 different women were arrested and convicted for prostitution — a public nuisance, an Ohio appeals court ruled.
The Tenth District Court of Appeals affirmed a Franklin County Municipal Court’s ruling to close the Red Carpet Inn on East Dublin-Granville Road for a year. The hotel owners challenged the contention that the city proved by clear and convincing evidence that the hotel was a nuisance, and claimed the closure was beyond the state’s one-year limit because the court temporarily closed the premises before making a final ruling.
Sunstar Columbus Inc. purchased the former Motel 6 in August 2013, and Minal Patel, one of the Sunstar owners, and her husband moved into the hotel. Patel worked the front desk and managed the staff. Columbus police testified that between the Red Carpet’s opening date and January 2014, they responded to 358 calls to the premises and repeatedly made Patel aware of illegal prostitution and drug activity going at the hotel. While Sunstar owners committed to taking steps to reduce the crimes, the police countered that they were not keeping their commitments to cooperate. In January 2014, the Columbus city attorney filed a complaint in municipal court to declare the hotel a nuisance. Citing Ohio law, the city sought to force Sunstar to abate the nuisance or face an injunction that would allow for the closure of the property. The city further cited R.C. 2925.03 and alleged the hotel had been used for “the purpose of trafficking, possessing, or abusing controlled substances” as well as “conduct associated with lewdness, assignation, or prostitution.”
The trial court issued a temporary restraining order in January 2014 closing the hotel until the April 2014 trial. At trial, the city introduced evidence of crimes, including the 10 prostitution convictions and nine felony drug violations it uncovered as part of a sting operation. In May 2014, the trial court declared the Red Carpet a nuisance and closed it for one year. Sunstar appealed the decision to the Tenth District. The owners challenged the contention that they had knowledge of the illegal activity or allowed it to happen, arguing the police failed to provide them with information about the drug and prostitution activity.
Writing for the Tenth District, Judge Susan Brown found the city provided evidence. It sent nuisance warning letters by certified mail that corporate officers signed as receiving, and that an officer met with Patel six or seven times to discuss the issues. Another police officer testified that Patel’s signature was on a receipt acknowledging he gave her a copy of a search warrant to search the hotel for drug trafficking.
Judge Brown also indicated the trial court found Sunstar did not act in good faith to abate the nuisance including purchasing a video security system but not installing it, and developing a “Do Not Rent List” but then letting those on the list rent rooms.
“Specifically, the trial court found that (Sunstar) ‘often seemed all too willing to ignore the obvious dangers and criminal activity taking place right under their noses so long as the money was coming in,’” she wrote. “Because there was competent, credible evidence to support the trial court’s determination that the premises constituted a nuisance and that (Sunstar) acquiesced in the perpetuation of the nuisance conditions, the trial court did not err in granting a permanent injunction to abate such nuisance.”
Sunstar also maintained the one-year closure period should have started in January 2014 when the trial court issued the temporary order closing the hotel. Citing the Ohio Supreme Court’s 1998 State ex rel. Pizza v. Rezcallah, Sunstar argues the one-year closure commences from the date of the preliminary order. Judge Brown explained the Tenth District and other Ohio courts did not interpret Rezcallah to limit the total closure time to one year, but found the law indicates a “closure can continue for one year” as part of the final judgment, meaning it is permissible to close it longer than a year if a property is closed by a temporary order before the final judgment.
Judges Gary Tyack and Jennifer Brunner concurred in the decision.
State ex rel. Pfeiffer v. Red Carpet Inn, 2015-Ohio-4035.
Criminal Appeal from: Franklin County Municipal Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: Sept. 29, 2015
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