Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Constitutionality of Ohio Restrictions on Picketing Debated

Image of a woman in a crowd of people holding up a cardboard sign in protest (iStock/<a href=''>Vasil Dimitrov</a>)

A state law imposes restrictions on picketing at certain residences and private workplaces during labor disputes.

Image of a woman in a crowd of people holding up a cardboard sign in protest (iStock/<a href=''>Vasil Dimitrov</a>)

A state law imposes restrictions on picketing at certain residences and private workplaces during labor disputes.

Following a year attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, employees of a Portage County developmental disability agency went on strike in 2017. They picketed the homes of board members and a gift shop owned by a board official.

Charges of unfair labor practices were filed against the association that represents the employees for encouraging them to picket at the private residences and gift shop.

The State Employment Relations Board (SERB) ruled the employees had violated a state law that prohibits picketing in such locations. The association appealed and challenged the constitutionality of the law based on the First Amendment. The Portage County Common Pleas Court disagreed.

However, on appeal, the Eleventh District Court of Appeals found that the statute is unconstitutional because it restricts the speech of the association and employees.

SERB and the county’s board of developmental disabilities, which is made up of seven volunteer board members, appealed. The Supreme Court of Ohio will hear Portage County Educators Association for Developmental Disabilities v. State Employment Relations Board at next week’s oral arguments. The Supreme Court also will review conflicting decisions on this issue from Ohio’s appellate courts.

Boards Argue Limitations Are on Time, Place, and Manner of Speech
SERB and the Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities argue the state law, R.C. 4117.11(B)(7), doesn’t violate the free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Instead, the law simply limits the time, place, and manner of the speech, which is allowed, the boards maintain. The “manner” of expression limited is the encouragement of picketing, at the “time” of a labor dispute, and in specific “places” – the residences and private employers of board officials, they state.

The groups assert that the law serves a government interest by protecting the privacy of public employer representatives. They note that employees can picket in many places besides board members’ private residences and workplaces, and they can communicate their message through advertising, social media, and other alternatives.

Employee Association Asserts Restrictions Placed Only on Certain Speakers, Topics
The Portage County Educators Association for Developmental Disabilities contends that the law restricts who is speaking and what is said. The statute limits the speech of only specific speakers – public employees and associations – on one topic – labor disputes, the employee group argues. If these employees carried signs at these locations promoting certain sports teams or a religious view, the picketing would be permitted, the employee group maintains. Because the law is based on the content of the expression, it is unconstitutional, the group argues.

The association also asserts that the law serves no significant government interest and isn’t narrowly tailored because it impedes even peaceful and non-intrusive expression by employees at these locations.

Oral Argument Details
The Court will hear four cases on Feb. 8 and four more appeals, including Portage County Educators Association for Developmental Disabilities on Feb. 9. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on the Ohio Channel, which also archives them.

In addition to these highlights, the Court’s Office of Public Information released preview articles today about each case, available through the case-name links.

Tuesday, Feb. 8
Traffic Stops
A man was pulled over by an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper on U.S. Route 35 in Gallia County for crossing the white line on the edge of the road. The trooper searched the driver, discovering a bag of cocaine concealed in his clothing. In State v. Hansard, the driver argues the trooper stopped him because he is Black. The trial court should have more fully considered whether he was stopped for racial reasons and excluded the drug evidence , the driver asserts. The county prosecutor states that the trial court properly considered the evidence it had.

Business Dissolution
Two businessmen formed a limited liability company in Holmes County for a specialized lumber-drying business. One of the founders was named the LLC manager and, with the help of family, borrowed $1.5 million to launch the company. The other businessman, who later invested money in the start-up, was given a 30% ownership interest. The manager dissolved the company and started a new family-owned business, using the assets from the dissolved company. In Bunta v. Mast, the Court will consider whether a claim for conversion can be made when a LLC manager dissolves a business, whose assets have been acquired by the new company, without compensating a member for his interest in the dissolved company.

A Mahoning County audiology business filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court to compel his insurance company to pay the costs associated with the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, which led to government authorities shutting down businesses. Before the case can proceed, the federal court asks the Supreme Court whether Ohio insurance law considers the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or the presence of a person infected with COVID-19 on a property’s premises, as fitting within the definition of “direct physical loss or physical damage to property” as stated in an insurance policy. In Neuro-Communication Services v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co., the Court will consider whether the policies only pay for damages after a property has been “structurally damaged” or “physically altered.”

Record Sealing
A Cuyahoga County man was indicted for rape, gross sexual imposition, and kidnapping arising from his alleged participation in the sexual assault of his niece. He also was charged with obstructing justice for hiding evidence. The victim later recanted her claims that her uncle was involved, and all the charges against the uncle except obstructing justice were dropped. The man sought to have the dismissed charges sealed, but prosecutor’s office objected, stating that only a case can be sealed, not charges within the case. In State v. G.K., the man maintains state law allows for the sealing of individual dropped charges.

Wednesday, Feb. 9
Bill of Particulars
After a woman died of drug overdose, the Wood County grandfather of her three young boys picked them up and took them to his house. The grandfather refused to let the boys’ father take them. After the father received a court custody order, the grandfather moved the children to a Hancock County home. The grandfather was arrested and charged with abduction. He requested a bill of particulars from the prosecutor, specifically detailing what acts he took that constituted abduction. In State v. Haynes, the Court will consider whether the prosecutor was obligated to provide a bill of particulars or if the state complied when it allowed the man to review the case files.

Home Rule
Traffic cameras are at the center of Newburgh Heights v. State. The General Assembly passed laws in 2019 to cut state funding to local governments operating cameras to catch speeding and red-light violations. The laws also required localities to make deposits to courts to cover fees and costs for appeals of traffic-camera citations. Newburgh Heights and East Cleveland filed lawsuits disputing the laws’ constitutionality, given the home-rule provisions in the Ohio Constitution. The state attorney general maintains that the legislature has broad discretion in deciding how to appropriate its funds. The municipalities counter that the laws violate their right to exercise local self-government.

Retaliation and Venue
A man living in Erie County was convicted of felonious assault and other crimes for holding his wife at gunpoint after she filed for divorce. At a Marion County prison, he tried to enlist another inmate to kill his wife. He was charged with retaliation and additional offenses, tried in Erie County, and convicted. The convictions were overturned by the appeals court, which determined the appropriate venue for the case was Marion County because the criminal conduct occurred at the prison. The prosecutor argues in State v. Moore that, under Ohio’s retaliation statute, the case could be heard in Erie County because the man was prosecuted in that county for the earlier crimes against his wife.