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Supreme Court will hear cases in Ironton

The other two cases coming before the Ohio Supreme Court while in session at the Lawrence County Courthouse April 4 involve a school board and two businesses.

Monday, March 26, 2001

The other two cases coming before the Ohio Supreme Court while in session at the Lawrence County Courthouse April 4 involve a school board and two businesses.

Each case has already been briefed, and each side presenting the cases will have about 15 minutes before the justices. In addition, county high school seniors will learn some valuable lessons during the Supreme Court’s visit as they watch precedings on the case.

To help them, the Lawrence County Bar Association has prepared synopses of the cases.

Here are the other two cases that will come before the justices:

– Wilmington City School District Board of Education vs. Clinton County Commissioners, et. al.

Issue: Does the Wilmington School Board have standing to argue the invalidity of certain property tax exemptions?

In 1988, the Clinton County Commissioners created the Community Reinvestment Area No. I (CRA), pursuant to R.C. 3735.67, which allows municipal corporations and counties the opportunity to stimulate economic development through the use of property tax exemptions.

On July 10, 1998, the Wilmington School Board, plaintiffs herein, filed suit against the Clinton County Commissioners, ABX Air, Inc. and Miller-Valentine Partners, Ltd. alleging that the CRA’s, as enacted by the Clinton County Commissioners, were invalid and further sought to elicit back property taxes from ABX Air, Inc. and Miller-Valentine Partners, Ltd. The Wilmington School Board alleges that the Clinton County Commissioners did not give proper notice prior to their approval of the ABX Air Inc. and M[iller-Valentine Partners, Ltd. property tax exemptions. The Wilmington School Board also argues that the lack of notice did not afford the Board the opportunity to contest the exemption approvals and they are therefore invalid. Lastly, the Wilmington School Board alleges that the property tax exemptions are invalid because the Clinton County Commissioners have no jurisdiction over a CRA after is has been annexed into a municipality.

The defendants, Clinton County Commissioners, ABX Air, Inc., and Miller-Valentine Partners, Ltd. all argue that the Wilmington School Board has no standing (a legal principle requiring the party to have a stake in an otherwise justifiable action). This allegation is based on the premise that no governmental subdivision has a vested interest in any taxes, until such time as distribution is made. Further, defendants argue, the issue of authority that the Clinton County Commissioners may possess over property recently annexed to a municipality is not a proper issue before the Court. Lastly, defendants argue, notification requirements for the approval of property tax exemptions were not enacted till after the property tax exemptions were granted, and further that the subsequent legislation did not require notice on prior property tax exemptions already approved.

– Priscilla Goodin v. Columbia Gas of Ohio, Inc.; and Rebecca Liechty v. Yoder Manufacturing, Inc., et. al.

Issue: Circumstantial evidence and the issuance of summary judgments.

This appeal involves two cases that concern two incidents that happened to two different men at two different work locations. However, both involve rulings on the same legal principle about dismissing the cases without them going to trial. Since the Supreme Court is deciding the issue of law which is the same in both cases, the cases have been joined for this hearing.

In the Columbia Gas case, Michael Sheroan was an employee of Columbia Gas. He and his work leader, Jeff Gillogly, responded to a report that gas was leaking from a residential gas service line in Athens, Ohio. They were in the process of repairing the leak by installing a new gas valve near the curb, when they were killed (asphyxiated) by methane gas from the gas line. The normal process of replacing the valve required them to dig a shallow pit around the existing valve, and they were working in the pit changing the valve when they died.

In the Yoder Manufacturing case, David Liechty was an employee of ITT Automotive, Inc. He was operating a machine that cut a 36 inch wide spool of steel into 12 inch wide strips and rewound them. His Job was to insert pieces of cardboard into the spools of 12 inch strips in order for them to properly rewind. He got caught in the rewinding portion of the machine and was killed. The machine was manufactured by Yoder Manufacturing, Inc.

Normally when people are injured or killed on the job at work, they can recover damages through Workers’ Compensation laws and regulations established by the Ohio legislature. However, when the injured party can prove that the companies or businesses committed a "common law employer intentional tort," then the injured party can recover damages over and above what the Workers’ Compensation rules permit. That is what the Plaintiffs in these cases are attempting to do.

In both cases in the Common Pleas Courts, the Plaintiffs (now the Appellants) tried to introduce circumstantial evidence that would show the Companies actions were intentional torts. The lower court issued a summary judgment in favor of the defendants, dismissing the suit.

What do the parties want to happen?

The Appellants (Plaintiffs in the original cases) want the Supreme Court to rule that issuing a Summary Judgment was the wrong thing to do, that the jury should decide the issues of fact because they have circumstantial evidence that could prove that the companies committed intentional torts, and that the case should be sent back to the Common Pleas Courts for continuation of the trial of these cases.

The Appellees (Defendants in the original cases) want the Supreme Court to rule that issuing the Summary Judgment was the right thing to do because the facts as presented in these cases do not show that the companies committed any intentional tort and because the Plaintiffs did not meet the three item test required to support their position.