Ohio Supreme Court Declines to Consider Whether Lower Courts May Create Barriers to Lawsuits

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 28, 2020

Akron, Ohio—Today, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in a case challenging Akron’s refusal to allow Sage Lewis and The Homeless Charity to operate a homeless community on private commercial property. In appealing the permit denial, Sage’s attorneys sent the court documents to the city’s attorney. However, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled last year that the documents needed to be sent to the City Council itself, rather than the City Council’s attorney. Even though no law provides for this outcome and the city was in fact on notice that it had been sued, the Ninth District has created an artificial barrier to people looking to the courts to protect their rights.

“The Ohio Supreme Court eventually needs to reject this judge-made rule that prevents people from defending their rights in court,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “Rather than making the City of Akron defend its decision on the merits, the courts dismissed this case for reasons that have no practical significance.”

The result in Ohio reflects a longstanding problem across the country, as governments and courts invoke procedural technicalities to avoid reviewing the actual issues. Courts are relying on these procedural escape mechanisms to avoid addressing weighty constitutional matters. “Informing the city’s attorney of a lawsuit has the exact same effect as informing a city agency, and pretending otherwise ignores reality,” Rowes continued.

“While I am disappointed the Ohio Supreme Court isn’t taking this case, I’m determined to continue to fight and ultimately have a court answer whether the Constitution protects my right to shelter people in need on my private property,” said Lewis.

And the fight continues. After Akron denied the conditional-use permit, the city issued Sage a notice of violation, and he applied for a variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which denied the request. That decision is currently on appeal at the Summit County Court of Common Pleas and will enable Sage and IJ to address the key constitutional questions.

“We will continue to fight on behalf of Sage and The Homeless Charity to protect their constitutional rights to provide a low-cost, private-sector alternative for addressing homelessness. Good Samaritans have used their land to shelter the neediest since ancient times, and we will not stop defending Sage and the charity’s right to do so,” said IJ Attorney Diana Simpson.