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Supreme Court of Ohio rules against Halliday, Ohio Power

* The Ohio Supreme Court has prohibited a trial in Washington County Common Pleas Court that was previously scheduled for March 2021.

* The high court prohibited Washington County Common Pleas Judge John Halliday from taking action in the case.

* The high court upheld landowners’ rights of appeal to be completed before further action in the case.

* This prohibition delays Ohio Power Company’s request to compensate landowners for seizure of property under eminent domain, pending the outcome of the appeal before the Fourth District Court.

The Supreme Court of Ohio announced Wednesday after close of business that it has ruled against both Washington County Common Pleas Judge John Halliday and Ohio Power Company in favor of Washington County landowners’ rights to appeal.

The case is rooted in arguments over the high-voltage transmission line of the power company which is under multiple years of construction through southeast Ohio.

Multiple Washington County landowners in recent years fought the argument of eminent domain prior to 2021.

After the trial court (Halliday) ruled in favor of the power company, the landowners, named jointly as “relators” within court documents, appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals.

But near the end of last summer, despite no judgment on the appeal from the higher court, a trial was set by Halliday to determine what the Ohio Power Company must pay landowners for seizure of their property.

“This case presents a pure question of law on undisputed facts, and it appears beyond doubt that (the landowners) are entitled to their requested extraordinary relief in prohibition,” reads the conclusion of the ruling, signed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and justices Patrick Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael Donnelly, Melody Stewart and Jennifer Brunner, with Justice Sharon Kennedy concurring in judgment only.

The landowners argued before the highest Ohio Court that Halliday does not have the jurisdiction to proceed with the compensation trial this spring, while the original case remains pending appeal.

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed with the landowners.

The ruling did not have a single dissent from the high court’s seven-person membership.

“We therefore grant a writ of prohibition to prevent Judge Halliday from proceeding with the compensation trial during the pendency of (landowners’) appeal in the Fourth District,” they wrote. “We deny Judge Halliday’s motion to dismiss and Ohio Power’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.”

This ruling does not determine the finality of the case of the landowners. Their case is presently filed under an appeal before the southeast Ohio appeals court. But this ruling does, according to case documents, outline sequence and jurisdiction.

“Judge Halliday lacks jurisdiction to proceed with the compensation trial because the issues to be adjudicated there are currently within the Fourth District’s appellate jurisdiction,” the justices explained.

The ruling notes that “the scope of the property rights that must be valued” is jurisdictionally held “squarely” with the appeals court.

“Indeed, should the Fourth District reverse or modify Judge Halliday’s judgment, the amount of compensation would be based on the scope of the takings as determined by the Fourth District,” they penned. “The trial court’s proceeding with a compensation trial while relators’ appeal is pending is therefore inconsistent with the Fourth District’s jurisdiction to reverse, modify, or affirm Judge Halliday’s judgment.”

¯ Background

Court documents of the high court and Washington County Common Pleas Court show that in 2020 Ohio Power filed complaints in Washington County Common Pleas Court (trial court) against the property owners for “appropriation and condemnation of easements.”

The property owners denied the power company’s need of their land, but were ruled against by Halliday.

“Judge Halliday consolidated the cases for a hearing on the necessity of the appropriations, which was held on Aug. 10, 2020,” summarized the high court’s ruling. “On Sept. 2, he determined that Ohio Power was entitled to an ‘irrebuttable presumption of the necessity for the appropriation’ … by virtue of the Ohio Power Siting Board’s approval of Ohio Power’s construction project. He also found that the takings were necessary and for a public use.”

Instead, according to the documents published by the high court, the appeals process must first be completed to provide relators Ronald and Barbara Bohlen, Michael and Misty Burns, Jeffrey and Holly Dexter and Ryan and Denay May with their due process.

The high court completed the entry with their order and command to Halliday on Wednesday.

“Now, therefore, in order that full and speedy justice should be done in the premises, we do command that, immediately upon receipt of this writ, you comply with the order of the Court as stated,” concludes the Jan. 27. document.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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