1851 Center spearheads legal action to protect citizens from municipal “ticket taxes” on arts and entertainment that force funding of private art

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved to protect Ohioans from special city taxes on tickets to art, theater, movie, sports and other performances.

The non-profit legal center leads a broad coalition business owners and residents seeking to prohibited so-called “ticket taxes” through both a municipal charter amendment and targeted public-interest litigation.

In December 2018, Columbus City Council politicians imposed a five percent “admissions tax,” on art, entertainment, and event tickets effective July 1. The city’s ordinance directs all revenue collected from this tax to the privately-run Greater Columbus Arts Council.

“Funding private art and the operations of private art corporations is neither an essential nor proper function of government,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “It is especially troubling when a city already awash in tax revenue funds purely-private causes and interests by imposing even higher taxes on residents,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson.

The charter amendment, drafted by the 1851 Center, will amend the Columbus Charter to provide “No person shall be compelled to pay, directly or indirectly, any tax or fee to gain entrance to any performance, place, association, or event in the City of Columbus.”  Petitions must submit 11,030 valid signatures by July 3 to place the amendment on the November ballot.

The 1851 Center has also served city hall with a taxpayer demand letter on behalf of Columbus taxpayers and businesses who will be subject to the tax. If the City fails to take action within 30 days, the 1851 Center will sue on behalf of these businesses and taxpayers. The demand letter lays out the legal case against taxing some to fund the private art and art corporations of others:

  • As the Supreme Court recently explained in Janus v. AFSCME, forcing citizens to fund the private political and “artistic” speech of a purely private corporation unconstitutionally compels citizens to support objectionable private speech.
  • Taxing citizens to expressly fund a private corporation, with no strings attached, “raises money for a corporation,” which violates Article VIII of the Ohio Constitution.
  • Taxing private expression that government disfavors, while exempting politically-connected special interests, only to use the funds to prop up competing private expression that government favors violates the both equal protection and freedom of expression guarantees.

“It’s inappropriate for government to pick winners and losers by taxing expression it views as too pedestrian, such as concerts, movies, and sports, to prop up sometimes-competing elitist artistic expression,” added Thompson. “People, not politicians or special interests, should assess and determine the value and worth of art.”

Read the 1851 Center’s Taxpayer Demand Letter HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s proposed Charter Amendment forbidding “Admissions Taxes” HERE.

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1851 Center Amicus Brief argues that government employees who aren’t union members can’t be forced to pay hundreds of dollars per year to unions

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law petitioned the United States Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Petitioner in a case challenging the constitutionality of public sector unions’ power to force public employees to pay union “agency fees.”

In Janus v. AFSCME, the Petitioner argues that government employees who opt not to be union members cannot be forced to pay fees in lieu of membership dues, to the union. Petitioner Mark Janus argues that nonmember employees cannot be forced to pay such fees because unions use the fees to fund their collective bargaining advocacy, union collective bargaining advocacy is inherently political, and the First Amendment prohibits enactments forcing American to subsidize the private political speech of others.

This case is of particular importance in Ohio, where 1,062 separate public employers maintain collective bargaining agreements requiring public employees who are not union members to pay agency fees to unions or be fired. These agreements affect 312,506 Ohio public employees who are forced to pay fees that average $700 per year.

The 1851 Center Brief explains and argues as follows:

  • Just as the First Amendment prevents government from prohibiting speech, it prevents government from compelling individuals to express certain views or pay subsidies for speech to which they object.
  • Forcing public employees to subsidize unions’ collective bargaining advocacy is no different than forcing such employees to fund the lobbying of public officials, since unions advocate for highly ideological outcomes through collective bargaining that raise taxes and spending while protecting poor performance and blocking reforms.
  • Collective bargaining advocacy can often be injurious to nonmembers’ self interests whether through raising their taxes, ensuring their own layoffs, or supporting political views they oppose.
  • The exception to the freedom from forced political speech the Supreme Court previously created for unions overlooked the highly political, ideological, and controversial nature of the policies public sector unions advocate for through collective bargaining.

“Just as no public employee may be forced to fund a political party, no public employee should be forced to fund objectionable union advocacy that has an even greater impact on our everyday lives,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “A complete victory in Janus will protect dissenting employees’ freedom of speech. Equally important, it will end forced funding of government unions in Ohio and restore to its proper place the artificially-inflated political power unions have used to raise government spending and taxes while blocking important reforms.”

“Government unions’ legal fight to deny employees the right to choose displays that their acknowledgment that they offer too little value at too high of a price,” continued Thompson, “Other non-profit organizations operate on voluntary contributions, and so should unions.”

Janus v. AFSCME only affects the rights of public sector workers as against public sector unions. It does not address private sector agency fees, which would remain intact. Nor would a victory in Janus prevent labor unions from collecting voluntary contributions.

The 1851 Center’s amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME was coauthored by labor policy analysis Jason A. Hart.

Read the 1851 Center’s Amicus Brief HERE

Read the 1851 Center’s Columbus Dispatch editorial supporting Right to Work HERE

Ohio city’s ban on political yard signs except directly before and after elections violates free speech, property rights

August 30, 2017: Toledo, OH – A federal court prohibited an Ohio city from fining citizens who display political yard signs for longer than 67 days.

The ruling, made by Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick of the Northern District of Ohio, forbids the City from enforcing local zoning ordinances to stifle free speech. The Court’s Order stops the City from determining which signs are “political,” limiting the display of “political” yard signs on private property to periods of time just before or after an election, or imposing fines on citizens who display such signs.

The ruling comes in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on August 15, 2017 on behalf of independent Perrysburg City Council candidate Charles “Chip” Pfleghaar and other Perrysburg citizens seeking to display their discontent with Perrysburg’s elected officials.

The 1851 Center’s lawsuit asserts that prohibiting signs on private property – or limiting the display of such signs to just two months of the year – simply because the signs reference politicians, government, or public policy issues, violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 11, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

In late July the City’s zoning inspector ordered Mr. Pleghaar to remove two relatively-modest signs advocating for his own election to city council or face fines of up to $100 per day for each day he displayed the signs in his yard.

The City cited its own local ordinance prohibiting signs with political messages except directly before and after elections, which it had previously cited to order citizens to remove Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton signs, as well as signs advocating for lower property taxes. In support of the ordinance, the City claims it prohibits political signs “to enhance the physical appearance of the City . . . to create an appearance that is attractive . . . and to improve traffic safety.”

“Ohioans should remain free to use their private property however they would like, so long as they abstain from inflicting harm on others. This of course includes displaying yard signs criticizing incumbent politicians, advocating for lower taxes, or advertising a business. When Ohio cities attempt to regulate signs on private property, they both abridge our free speech and violate our property rights at the same time,” explains Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“Yard signs are an efficient way for a homeowner to criticize public officials and identify where he or she stands on an issue. These signs are particularly important to political outsiders with lower name identification and less-established donor and political networks, and likely the ultimate example of outsider-driven grass-roots politics, as the average homeowner lacks access to media outlets or the capacity to make large donations to candidates or issues.”

Read the Homeowners’ Complaint HERE

Read the Homeowners’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE

Read the Court’s Order HERE

Legal Center: Fees that City’s homeowners were forced to pay to fund unconstitutional “point of sale” inspections must now be returned

Cleveland, OH – A federal court certified a class action lawsuit against the City of Bedford, Ohio, explaining that all homeowners who were forced to endure government searches as a precondition to the sale of their homes are entitled to demand refunds of illegal “Point of Sale” inspection fees.

This ruling paves the way for the return of inspections fees to all affected homeowners, rather than just those who filed the lawsuit.

The Order, made by Judge Benita Pearson of the Northern District of Ohio, confirms class action lawsuits may be maintained against city governments who extort their citizens and businesses in a widespread manner, such as through violating their Fourth Amendment rights through sweeping city-wide home inspection requirements.

Specifically, Judge Pearson certified classes of all individuals or businesses that have been subject to the inspections and paid inspection fees to the City of Bedford in conjunction with the inspections, explaining that “Citizens are entitled to “return of Point of Sale and Rental Inspection fees illegal paid to [the City of Bedford].”

“Class action litigation is an excellent method for average citizens to even the playing field when fighting back against their corrupt and otherwise indifferent local governments. This ruling confirms that Ohio cities must be held just as responsible to their citizens as big corporations are to their customers,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

In May of 2016, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law moved to immediately enjoin Ohio cities, and the Cities of Bedford and Oakwood in particular, from enforcing “point of sale” and “presale” programs that require citizens to endure and pass arbitrary and warrantless government inspections before they could sell their homes to even the most informed and willing buyers.

In each case, the Cities had threatened to criminally prosecute and even imprison homeowners who sold their homes without first submitting to and passing city inspections. In Bedford, the City also claimed the power to block home sales on account of “architectural style and detail,” “color,” and lack of “orderly appearance.”

Within days of the 1851 Center’s lawsuits, each city rescinded its policies. However each has refused to return illegal inspection fees.

Such municipal ordinances, in addition to restricting Ohioans’ property rights, subject homeowners to open-ended warrantless searches of every interior and exterior space of a home, violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

“Local governments do not have unlimited authority to force entry into Ohioans’ homes or businesses. To the contrary ‘houses’ are one of the types of property specifically mentioned by the Fourth Amendment; and Ohioans have every moral and constitutional entitlement to exclude others, even government agents, from their property,” adds Thompson. “The right to own property in Ohio has little value if local governments can continuously chip away at one’s right to actually make use of that property, requiring government permission slips for basic arrangements such as the sale of one’s home to a willing buyer.”

The legal action against Bedford is filed on behalf of area landlord Ken Pund, who is forbidden from selling to his daughter a home that he owns and she already resides in, and John Diezic who was prohibited from selling his Bedford home due to minor cracks in the asphalt of his driveway.

Read the Court’s Order HERE

Read the Property Owners’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE

Check out Maurice Thompson discussing the case against Ohio governments’ forced home inspections below:

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This lawsuit is brought in partnership with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association (“OREIA”), the Finney Law Firm in Cincinnati, and the law firm of Berns, Ockner & Greenberger in Cleveland.

1851 Center teaches citizens how to use local initiatives to place tax cut proposals on the ballot

Are you tired of do-nothing politicians but still looking to make a difference in government?

Have you recently opened an envelope with an unacceptably-large property tax bill? Or just paid an unreasonable amount of local income taxes?

Unbeknownst to many, Ohio law invites civic-minded Ohioans to initiate relatively simple petition drives to place tax cut proposals on the ballot.

In A Citizen’s Guide to Reducing Your Local Tax Burden, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law provides citizens with detailed, practical, and clear advice on how to lower their school district property or income taxes, as well as city, village, and township taxes, through a little known state statute.

By collecting just a few hundred valid signatures, over-taxed Ohioans can certify ballot issues to cut or repeal sky-rocketing local property or income taxes.

And there has never been a better time for such efforts:

  • Ohioans have never been more entitled to tax relief. Local property and income taxes in Ohio have sharply increased during the Kasich Administration. Some estimate that Ohioans local tax burdens have increased by an average of 40 percent since Kasich took office.
  • Ohioans are now subject to the ninth highest combined state and local tax burden in the nation, and the highest amongst all Midwestern states.
  • There’s no indication that state or local politicians will do anything to curb this continuous cycle of levy elections and tax hikes. But local initiatives are a means by which citizens can circumvent unhelpful public officials and take matters into their own hands.

The 1851 Center provides free legal assistance to those interested in placing a tax relief proposal on their local ballot this fall.

You may not be able to influence what goes on in Washington D.C., or even Columbus. But through a local petition drive, you can directly influence your tax rate. And you don’t need to be a lobbyist or donate to a political campaign to do it.

You have a right to keep more of the money you’ve earned. And by passing a local tax cut, more of your hard-earned dollars can be diverted away from waste and devoted to you and your family’s health, education, safety, and general well-being.

Read A Citizen’s Guide to Reducing Your Local Tax Burden HERE.

Mayor’s lawsuit “frivolously” violated local bloggers’ right to free speech

Cleveland, OH – An Ohio Court ordered Maple Heights, Ohio Mayor Jeffery Lansky and his attorney to pay $9,395 in attorney’s fees and costs to internet critics they sued to silence.

In 2014, Lansky and his attorney, Brent English, filed a lawsuit for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, demanding “an amount in excess of $25,000” from Bill and Lynde Brownlee, husband and wife, after they questioned Lansky’s job performance on their blog, Maple Heights News

The 1851 Center took up the case and the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas ruled for the family in late 2015. The court explained that “a primary purpose of the First Amendment is to encourage self-government by permitting comment and criticism of those charged with its leadership.”

The Court finalized the case, ordering the sanctions pursuant to two Ohio statues prohibiting “frivolous conduct” in litigation, Ohio Revised Code Section 2323.51 and Civil Rule 11.

“Those who would use the courts to silence their political opponents should take this ruling seriously,” explained Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“When criticizing public officials, Ohioans should not be bullied into silence for fear of an expensive lawsuit. Often, the possibility of an economic penalty such as this is the only means of persuading Ohio governments and local officials to respect constitutional rights.”

The Brownlees had written a short web article in the summer of 2014 questioning whether the Mayor had kept all of his campaign promises, and further questioning his tax and spending policies. The article strictly addressed the Mayor’s policies, and did not use insulting or harsh language. One prominent undercurrent to the case concerned whether political comments on citizen websites would be entitled to the same level of protection as mainstream news commentary.

Lansky v. Brownlee was litigated by the 1851 Center in cooperation with attorneys David Tryon and Brodie Butland of the law firm of Porter Wright in Cleveland, Ohio.

Read the Court’s Order HERE

Read the Court’s Original Order Protecting Free Speech HERE

Private ethane pipeline to Canada is not a “public use” or “public necessity,” as required by Ohio Constitution

Ruling will protect property rights of Ohio farmers and other rural property owners

Bowling Green, OH – An Ohio court ruled that private pipeline companies cannot use eminent domain to forcibly seize Ohioans’ private property for purely private pipeline projects.

The ruling protects the property rights of dozens of Ohioans represented by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and others along the pipeline route. However, given the escalation in private pipeline construction throughout Ohio and the nation, the decision is anticipated to have impact well beyond just the immediate parties or the Utopia Pipeline.

In April 2016, Texas pipeline corporation Kinder Morgan, using an arcane Ohio statute, sued the farmers in an attempt to forcibly take their land for the benefit of its private ethane pipeline to Canada. In moving to dismiss the case, the 1851 Center argued that the Utopia Pipeline is not a “public use,” as required by the Ohio Constitution. The 1851 Center explained that the pipeline is, for the sole benefit of one private Canadian corporation, shipping ethane (a by-product of fracking) underground throughout Ohio directly to that corporation’s Canadian factory, where the ethane will be used to manufacture plastic products such as water bottles.

The 1851 Center further argued that taking Ohioans’ land was not a “public necessity,” since the pipeline’s route was not set it stone by government, giving Kinder Morgan the freedom (unlike natural gas pipelines) to build its pipeline around objecting landowners.

In a decision extolling private property rights under the Ohio Constitution, Judge Robert Pollex of the Wood County Court of Common Pleas agreed. The Court explained why such attempted land-grabs by large private corporations, particularly those that are not public utilities or otherwise directly providing services to Ohioans, cannot be sustained:

  • “The fundamental principles in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution declare the inviolability of private property, and Ohio has always considered the right of property to be a fundamental right.”
  • “‘Economic development’ alone is not sufficient to satisfy public use requirements.”
  • “In this case Kinder Morgan is taking the private property for the purpose of transporting by pipeline petroleum products for the use of one private manufacturer. The manufacturer is not even a Unites States business, but rather, a Canadian business . . . there is no anticipated circumstances that would show a benefit to the citizens of Ohio or even for that matter, the United States.”
  • “This project and appropriation is not necessary nor a public use. To the extent that the Ohio statutes authorize a common carrier of Kinder Morgan’s type, the legislation is an unconstitutional infringement upon the property rights of the Defendants.”

“The Court’s ruling is a substantial victory for private property rights across Ohio, but above all else, this outcome safeguards the dignity and respect to which every Ohioan is entitled,” explained Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“While we fully support the continued development of oil and gas reserves in eastern Ohio, profit margins related to private efforts should not be inflated at the expense of Ohioans’ rights. Just like churches, gas stations, supermarkets, and other important private endeavors, pipeline construction can and must move forward without using the governmental power of eminent domain to redistribute land from average Ohioans to wealthy politically-connected cronies and elites.”

The Court’s ruling draws a distinction between takings for pipelines facilitating home heating or energy independence and pipelines for purely private commercial interests. While public utilities may exercise eminent domain to provide service to Ohioans’ homes, and certain oil and gas pipelines may even possess eminent domain authority, the Utopia Pipeline remains submerged through the entire state, and provides no service to Ohioans. The ruling will not prevent governments or public utilities from acquiring land for legitimately public pipelines.

The ruling is also an important reminder that Ohioans enjoy greater property rights than those protected by the federal constitution, due to a stringent state constitution.

The 1851 Center’s position was supported by an amicus brief from the Ohio Farm Bureau, as well as the efforts of the northwest Ohio law firm of Mayle, Ray & Mayle, LLC.

Read the Court’s Order upholding property rights HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s full Motion to Dismiss HERE.

15 families unite and move to dismiss corporation’s case attempting to take their land through eminent domain.

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law moved to dismiss 16 separate eminent domain cases filed in Bowling Green, Ohio by Texas pipeline company Kinder Morgan, explaining that purely private pipeline corporations’ taking of land for their own gain violates the Ohio Constitution’s strict protection of private property rights.

The action is filed on behalf of 15 families in eastern Wood County who have owned and farmed the disputed land for generations, and oppose turning it over for the Utopia Pipeline, a private ethane pipeline running underground to a Canadian plastics factory.

Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based corporation amongst the world’s largest pipeline companies, has used the threat of eminent domain as leverage to force Ohioans to sell it desirable land to construct the Utopia across northern Ohio. It claims that it — by itself and without government approval — can take Ohioans’ homes and land pursuant to an arcane Ohio statute now experiencing a revival due to energy development in eastern Ohio.

However, in its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, the 1851 Center explains that taking private property from Ohioans and giving to private businesses simply to enhance their profit margins, whether initiated by the state or the private party itself, violates the Ohio Constitution:

  • The Due Process Clause forbids a state from delegating, without any limits whatsoever (as here), the power of eminent domain to a purely private individual or business.
  • The taking of land through eminent domain must be for “public use,” and economic benefits to private interests are not public uses. Here, the public will not own, control, or use the Utopia Pipeline as it journeys underground through Ohio to Canada.
  • The taking of land must be a “public necessity.” But here, ethane, a waste product created by the fracking process, can be shipped by railroad, tanker truck, and barge. Further, the Utopia Pipeline’s route is not set in stone by any regulator, and Kinder Morgan remains free to create a different route by acquiring land from voluntary sellers.
  • Ohio’s constitutional protection of private property rights is significantly greater than that of the federal constitution, requiring that all doubts be strictly construed against those seeking to seize Ohioans’ properties.

“This is redistribution of wealth of the worst sort: taking property from regular Ohioans and giving it to a billion-dollar Texas corporation for its own benefit, under the false pretense of progress,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “The abuse along the Utopia Pipeline is a prime example of what can happen when legislators attempt to auction off Ohioans’ property rights to the highest bidder. Ultimately, the Ohio Constitution prevents this abuse, and we will prevail in court. But statutes inviting this sort of behavior should be amended or repealed.”

“And while we fully support the continued development of oil and gas reserves in eastern Ohio,” continued Thompson, “the very thing that makes private enterprise possible is respect for private property rights – – the Ohio Constitution does not enable private parties to take Ohioans homes and land, simply to improve their own profit margins.”

The 1851 Center draws a distinction between takings for pipelines facilitating home heating or energy independence and pipelines for purely private commercial interests. While public utilities may exercise eminent domain to provide service to Ohioans homes, and certain oil and gas pipelines may even possess eminent domain authority, the Utopia Pipeline remains submerged through the entire state, and provides no service to Ohioans.

“At minimum, Kinder Morgan is using the false threat of eminent domain to intimidate Ohio property owners into accepting below-market settlements for their land,” added Thompson. “Ohioans should be aware of this ploy.”

Read the 1851 Center’s full Motion to Dismiss HERE.

Fourth Amendment prohibits state mandate to make business records, property, and inventory available to state agents “at all times” and “upon demand”

Columbus, OH – A federal court ruled that State Agencies violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches when they, without a warrant or any evidence of wrongdoing, investigate Ohio businesses by simply demanding private business records, property, and inventory.

The ruling, made by Judge Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio, addressed regulations governing those purchasing gold, silver, and other precious metals under the Precious Metals Dealers Act (“PMDA”).

However, its impact is likely to far exceed just the PMDA. Many Ohio businesses, particularly those requiring government licensing, face materially identical mandates. Accordingly, the ruling paves the way for Ohio businesses, even if heavily licensed and regulated, to refuse government demands to search private records, property, and inventory, especially when such demands are made on-the-spot and without a warrant.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law took up the case in 2012 on behalf of Liberty Coins, a coin dealer of Delaware, Ohio, and Worthington Jewelers, a retail jeweler in Worthington, Ohio. Each balked at the prospect of, without any evidence of wrongdoing, losing their business licenses and being fined and prosecuted for refusing to turn over cell phones, laptops, paper records, and even inventory such as jewelry and rare coins simply “upon demand” of state enforcement agents.

In his 35 page decision, Judge Watson, enjoined four state requirements:

  • A statute declaring that “all books, forms, and records, and all other sources of information with regard to the business shall at all times be available for inspection.”
  • A statute demanding “free access to the books and papers and other sources of information with regard to the business.”
  • A requirement that private business records be “open to the inspection of the police upon demand.
  • A mandate that businesses, at the end of each business day, fax descriptions of every item purchased that day to local police.

The Court explained as follows: “The Inspection Provisions give the government and law enforcement the right to inspect a licensee’s records without any opportunity for the licensee to seek neutral, precompliance review. The PMDA specifically provides that failure to comply with a search request is a crime. . . . The PMDA’s Inspection Provisions violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

“Acts like this treat Ohio entrepreneurs as public utilities at best, and criminals at worst, irrespective of whether they have done harm. No entrepreneur deserves to be arrested for questioning the authority of a state agent to show up at his business unannounced, without any evidence of wrongdoing, and confiscate or filter through his papers, computers, cell phones, and even his business’s inventory.” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

Thompson added “we brought this case to invalidate the constant invasions confronting not just precious metal dealers, but all of the other businesses that face similar inspection requirements. Our expectation is that this precedent will invalidate these kinds of searches in all industries. Ohio businesses are free to decline invasive and costly government searches – – they cannot lose their business licenses or be prosecuted, fined, or disciplined simply for saying ‘no’.”

The Supreme Court has continuously reaffirmed that the Fourth Amendment applies to businesses and business property just as it does to individuals and private homes.

Read the Court’s Order Granting the Motion for Summary Judgment of Liberty Coins and Worthington Jewelers HERE.

Read the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment HERE.

Legal Center moves to protect Ohioans’ property rights from unlawful searches and fees statewide

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law moved in federal court to immediately enjoin Ohio cities, and the Cities of Bedford and Oakwood in particular, from enforcing “point of sale” and “presale” programs that require citizens to endure and pass arbitrary and warrantless government inspections before they can sell their homes to even the most informed and willing buyers.

Such municipal ordinances, in addition to restricting Ohioans’ property rights, subject homeowners to open-ended warrantless searches of every interior and exterior space of a home, violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

The legal action against Bedford is filed on behalf of area landlord Ken Pund, who is forbidden from selling to his daughter a home that he owns and she already resides in, and John Diezic, who was prohibited from selling his Bedford home due to minor cracks in the asphalt of his driveway. In Oakwood, Plaintiff Jason Thompson was forced to pay for and undergo an inspection simply after making an alteration to the title of his property.

In each case, the City threatened to criminally prosecute and even imprison these homeowners if they sold their homes without first submitting to and passing city inspections.

Both the United States and Ohio Supreme Court have invalidated warrantless inspections of houses, absent consent or an emergency. Nevertheless, Ohio cities have vigorously sought to collect inspection fees and impose fines, and the point of sale inspection requirements are the lynchpin to this revenue stream – – homeowners, irrespective of whether they want or need the inspection, pay a $100 fee to fund the inspections, and then additional fees for “follow-up” inspections.

The lawsuit seeks to restore both Ohio homeowners’ and small business owners’ freedom from warrantless searches without probable cause. In doing so, the 1851 Center’s Complaint explains the following:

  • Government inspection of homes, even when for sale, requires a warrant, and these expansive warrantless searches, as “unreasonable searches” of “houses,” violate Ohioans’ Fourth Amendment rights.
  • The Warrant Requirement is a significant protection for property owners, because a warrant can only be issued in light of serious and credible complaints about the property.
  • Fees that are charged to fund these unconstitutional inspections are also unconstitutional; cities cannot require their payment, and must return past payments.
  • In a prior 1851 Center victory, Baker v. Portsmouth, federal courts declared warrantless inspections of rental homes unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment’s protections should extend to inspections triggered by the marketing or sale of a home, just as they apply to inspections triggered by renting a home.

“Local government agents do not have unlimited authority to force entry into Ohioans’ homes or businesses. To the contrary ‘houses’ are one of the types of property specifically mentioned by the Fourth Amendment; and Ohioans have a moral and constitutional right to exclude others, even government agents, from their property. Entry requires either a warrant or an emergency, and neither is present with respect to these suspicionless inspections,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“The right to own property in Ohio has little value if local governments can continuously chip away at one’s right to actually make use of that property, requiring government permission slips for basic arrangements such as the sale of one’s home to a willing buyer.”

In Bedford, the City maintains the power to block sales on account of “architectural style and detail,” “color,” and lack of “orderly appearance.” In Oakwood, the City concedes “the inspection will seldom, if ever, reveal latent defects or violations of the Property Maintenance Code which are not readily apparent. Neither should owners nor prospective owners or occupants rely entirely upon our inspection regarding the house or accessory structures or fixtures.”

Read the Property Owners’ Complaint HERE

Read the Property Owners’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE

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This lawsuit is brought in partnership with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association (“OREIA”), the Finney Law Firm in Cincinnati, and the law firm of Berns, Ockner & Greenberger in Cleveland.