Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Dispute Over Role of Sewer District in Northern Ohio Before Supreme Court

Among Eight Cases To Be Heard September 9 and 10

Image of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justice Terrence O'Donnell listening to  oral arguments

The Supreme Court’s early September cases also address the dismissal of a 1988 murder case, court discretion in felony sentencing, and the constitutionality of a northern Ohio zoning law.

Image of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justice Terrence O'Donnell listening to  oral arguments

The Supreme Court’s early September cases also address the dismissal of a 1988 murder case, court discretion in felony sentencing, and the constitutionality of a northern Ohio zoning law.

A program designed to manage stormwater runoff in the Cleveland area is at the center of a debate between the regional sewer district running the project and several neighboring communities and commercial property owners.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court will consider whether the regional sewer district has the authority to create a stormwater management program and charge a fee for its services and whether it is permitted to handle stormwater that is not mixed with sewage.

In 1972, a common pleas court created the sewer district to deal with regional problems stemming from wastewater, sewage treatment and disposal, and pollution following substantial population and industry growth around Cleveland. The district then approved a stormwater management program in 2010 and established a fee to pay for related projects.

The district maintains that it has the authority to manage waste water, which includes stormwater regardless of whether it contains sewage. It contends that state law and the organization’s charter permit it to develop a stormwater management program to help prevent flooding, erosion, loss of habitat, and other problems. The program and its projects also meet the statutory definition of a “water resource project,” which allows the district to charge a fee for the services, they argue.

Eight nearby affected communities disagree. They claim that the sewer district doesn’t have the authority to deal with stormwater that hasn’t been contaminated by sewage or other pollution. They don’t believe the Ohio legislature gave regional sewer districts such broad powers, and they also argue the fee is an illegal tax. More than a dozen commercial property owners have joined with the communities protesting against the program.

The case, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District v. Bath Township, Ohio, has also drawn many friend-of-the-court briefs supporting each side.

The court will consider the case and three others on Tuesday, September 9. Arguments in four more cases will be heard on Wednesday, September 10. The court’s sessions begin at 9 a.m. each day at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.

Along with the brief descriptions below, the Office of Public Information today released summaries of the eight cases.

Cases for Tuesday, September 9
In addition to Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, the court will consider these cases during Tuesday’s session:

  • A Cincinnati-area board of education in Sanborn v. Hamilton County Budget Commission moved money from its general revenue fund to pay for capital improvements, and the shift led to a property tax increase. Residents opposing the increase maintain that moving funds in this way is permitted only when clearly required for the upcoming year’s budget for the school district. They claim the district projected a budget surplus and had more than ample reserves, so the additional funds weren’t needed.
  • During an investigation, police sifted through the trash at the house of a Cleveland woman suspected of drug activity. State v. Jones asks whether evidence gathered from the trash was enough to establish the probable cause needed to issue a warrant to search her house. The state argues that all the information obtained during the police investigation, including the trash pull, collectively justified the search warrant.
  • In 1993, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a Cleveland man convicted of murder. He was re-tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Two years ago, though, a federal court found that county prosecutors withheld evidence from the defendant and ordered a new trial. At that point, the trial court dismissed the case. In State v. Keenan, the state asserts that the court should have imposed less severe sanctions for the discovery violations than complete dismissal of the murder case.

Cases for Wednesday, September 10
The court will hear arguments in these four cases during Wednesday’s session:

  • Mobile homes not used for more than six months are considered legally abandoned in an area of Lodi that is no longer zoned for the homes. In Village of Lodi v. Sunset Estate Properties, the village contends that the zoning ordinance is meant to gradually eliminate uses of property that are no longer permitted in certain locations. It maintains that the local law is constitutional and that municipalities have the right to exercise their police powers by enacting and enforcing zoning regulations.
  • A Cuyahoga County business, involved in a civil trial, seeks disclosure of information concerning an ongoing undercover criminal investigation into illegal gambling activities in J&C Marketing v. McGinty. The county prosecutors argue that the law enforcement investigative privilege bars the discovery of details of the investigation, and releasing the information would significantly damage the undercover operation.
  • Commercial property owners leased space to a community college to operate learning centers in Columbus and Dublin and applied for property tax exemptions for the facilities. The Columbus and Dublin school districts in Tax Commissioner of Ohio v. Equity Dublin Associates oppose the exemptions. They contend that the Ohio General Assembly developed a specific law for granting property tax exemptions for community colleges but that Ohio’s tax appeals board incorrectly approved these exemptions by relying on a different statute and a 1971 Ohio Supreme Court ruling.
  • State of Ohio v. Ware asks the court whether a felony sentence can be a mix of mandatory and non-mandatory prison terms. A Portage County man pled guilty to two counts of trafficking cocaine and received four years in prison for the second-degree offense. He asserts that the court did not make the term mandatory. The prosecutors maintain that felony sentences are defined by statute and courts have no power to create hybrid sentences.