EVEN THE PARANOID HAVE ENEMIES
Could you say that “it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get … your trees?” Put on your tin foil hat, conspiracy enthusiasts! Or not, if you think that’s an aluminum industry conspiracy.
In today’s case, the Riehl family had what could be fairly described as a mania for not trimming their trees and bushes. Their preoccupation with the natural look made the neighbors’ use of a common roadway rather tough. As a result, the Riehls were sued in the 1970s, and while the neighbors were found to have an easement, the court didn’t force the Riehls to trim the trees.
Some 15 years later, the City of Rossford passed a nuisance ordinance aimed at people who didn’t trim their trees along streets. And the odor of conspiracy wafted through the town, spread by black UN helicopters …
The City sued the Riehls in 1997, but then cut a deal with them by dismissing the action and trimming the Riehls’ trees itself. But in subsequent years, aided no doubt by the Illuminati and Council for Foreign Relations, the City cited the Riehls almost annually, hired contractors to cut the trees down, and then billed the Riehls for the trimming. Finally, the Riehls had had enough, and — proving that a man who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client — they filed their own complaint, alleging everything from fraud to contract breaches to infliction of emotional distress to multiple Constitutional law violations. And they sued the City, the prosecutor and all of their neighbors.
The trial court (probably in the pockets of the New World Order) threw out the suit even with respect to defendant who didn’t answer. The Court of Appeals agreed, expressing bafflement as to why the neighbors were even named, and finding that the fact that the City made a deal in 1997 didn’t mean that it couldn’t come back every year after.
Time for the Riehls to raise their own militia … and maybe set them to work trimming the bushes.
Riehl v. City of Rossford, Slip Copy, 2007 WL 2164158 (Ct.App. Ohio, July 27, 2007). This case is the latest installment in the ongoing dispute between property owners in Eagle Point Colony about an undedicated access road/alley commonly known as Thirwal Drive. The Riehls owned property along Thirwal Drive, and their perpetually untrimmed trees and bushes encroached on the road to the detriment of other property owners who use it, as well as delivery and trash truck servicing all of the owners along the road. In 1977, a number of the other residents sued the Riehls seeking to enjoin them from clogging, choking or narrowing the width of Thirwal Drive. The court ruled that the other owners had an easement by prescription over the Riehls’ land in the form of Thirwal Drive and permanently enjoined the Riehls from clogging, narrowing, or impeding the use of Thirwal Drive.
But when the neighbors filed a contempt motion because the Riehls weren’t cooperating, the trial court determined that the Riehls didn’t have the obligation to remove or trim the bushes and trees, or otherwise to repair or maintain the easement.
Thereafter, in 1995, Rossford City Council passed Ordinance No. 94-045, which held that “[e]very occupant of land shall maintain his property so that no brush, trees, bushes or obstructions extend into, on or over any public or private way generally used for the passage of persons or vehicles so as to obstruct or interfere with the passage of such persons or vehicles, or with the ingress and egress of emergency, maintenance, repair or service vehicles or equipment.” Pursuant to the ordinance, the City cited the Riehls in 1997 but later dismissed the case. Thereafter, it cited the Riehls virtually every year, trimmed the trees and bushes itself, and billed the Riehls for the cost.
Finally, in 2005, the Riehls sued the City, the prosecutor, and all of the other neighboring property owners. The poorly-drafted complaint alleged the City had breached a contract by passing an ordinance charging the Riehls for the trimming, committed fraud, violated the Riehls’ property rights, and retaliated against them by enforcing the nuisance ordinance. The trial court dismissed the action on all counts as to all defendants. The Riehls appealed.
Held: The dismissal was affirmed. The Court said the current litigation, reduced to its essence, was simple: it involved the Riehls’ continuing violation of Rossford’s nuisance ordinance, which was passed after the 1978 decision. Nothing in the prior decision of the trial court had any effect on the subsequently-passed ordinance. And, the Court held, the Rossford nuisance ordinance had a real and substantial relation to the safety and general welfare of the public and is neither unreasonable nor arbitrary. It seeks to prevent Rossford property owners from obstructing any public or private way that is used for the passage of persons or vehicles, including emergency, maintenance, repair or service vehicles or equipment. The nuisance ordinance applies equally to the Riehls and all other residents of Rossford.
At its heart, the Riehls’ complaint alleged that the 1997 judgment granting the city’s motion to dismiss the first nuisance action filed against the Riehls, amounted to a res judicata determination that the Riehls never again had an obligation to trim their bushes and trees and prevent them from obstructing Thirwal Drive. However, the Court held, a political subdivision or an employee of a political subdivision is immune from liability in a civil action for injury or loss to property when the claims are in connection with the political subdivision’s or employee’s performance of legislative or quasi-legislative functions, or the enforcement or nonperformance of any law. What’s more, the Supreme Court of Ohio has expressly stated that “[t]here are no exceptions to immunity for the intentional torts of fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress …”
Because the Riehls’ claims against the city arose out the city’s performance of governmental functions, and because no exceptions to immunity apply with regard to the Riehls’ claims against the city for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the city was entitled to summary judgment on those claims.
The city’s immunity doesn’t extend to contracts. The Riehls argued that in 1997 the city of Rossford entered in to a settlement agreement with the Riehls approved by Judge Dwight Osterud. They claim that the city agreed to trim the Riehls’ bushes and trees that encroached on Thirwal Drive. Nevertheless, in 2003 and 2004, the city of Rossford passed ordinances assessing the costs of trimming against the Riehls’ real estate. The Riehls claim that the February 1997 judgment entry amounted to a contract and that through their actions, the governmental defendants breached this contract with the Riehls.
The Court rejected their argument. It held that there was no enforceable plea agreement. The City got no benefit and the Riehls suffered no detriment from the deal. Thus, the Court held, there was no consideration for the contract, and thus there could be no contract. The Riehls also argued that assessing them for trimming their trees constituted an unconstitutional taking of their property without compensation. But the Ohio Supreme Court has held that the government must pay just compensation for total regulatory takings “except to the extent that ‘background principles of nuisance and property law’ independently restrict the owner’s intended use of the property.” That’s all that was happening here. There was evidence that the nuisance ordinance had been enforced against other residents, too, so the Riehls’ claim of disparate treatment failed as well. Finally, there was no evidence that the city had enforced the tree nuisance ordinance against the Riehls as punishment for their voicing their views pursuant to their First Amendment rights.
Just like everyone else in Rossford, the Riehls must keep their bushes and trees trimmed at their own expense.