ODOT director lawsuits restricted to Franklin Co.

The case was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons.



COLUMBUS — Ohio Department of Transportation directors can be sued only in Franklin County courts, according to a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision released Wednesday.

The case stems from the 2001 Ohio Department of Transportation appropriation of land owned by Cortland residents. The land was appropriated to make improvements to state Route 5. Those improvements were completed in 2003.

In 2004, Cortland landowners, including Kathy Kardassilaris and Richard Blank, filed a claim against then-ODOT Director Gordon Proctor, alleging ODOT used land beyond the original appropriations boundaries it won and paid for, and also damaged other portions of their property as well.

Both wanted reimbursed for the extra land taken and for the damage done to their property.

The case was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons. The 11th District Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s dismissal for the same reasons. The case was then brought before the Ohio Supreme Court.

The use of the term “suable” (in Ohio Revised Code) is clear and unambiguous, Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote in the majority opinion. The state code requires individuals to prosecute all claims for relief against the director of transportation in Franklin County — even those that could be brought as counterclaims.

History of statute

In the decision, Moyer explained the history of this statute.

In 1928, the General Assembly enacted such a statute, waiving immunity for suits against the director of transportation but limiting such suits to Franklin County, wrote Moyer. The current version of the statute maintains this rule.

According to the decision, only certain circumstances would allow for a lawsuit to be filed outside Franklin County, and the current case before them did not qualify or even claim to qualify.

Moyer was joined in the majority opinion by Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O’Connor, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Lanzinger and Robert Cupp.

Justice Paul Pfeifer cast the only dissenting vote.

“I would concur in the majority opinion, but for the fact that there has not been a trial on the original appropriation action,” Pfeifer stated in his dissenting opinion.

“Based on the unique facts of this case, that the director has filed an appropriation action against [Kardassilaris and Blank], which has not yet gone to trial, I would reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and allow the trial court to adjudicate all issues.”

Warren attorney Frank Bodor represented Kardassilaris and Blank before the high court. He was out of the country and unavailable to comment.

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