Magistrate rules Mill Creek deer reduction program can survive

YOUNGSTOWN — Magistrate Nicole Butler of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court ruled Wednesday in favor of the Mill Creek MetroParks in the lawsuit filed by four property owners living near MetroParks properties that argued the MetroParks did not have authority to carry out its deer reduction program Oct. 1 through Jan. 28.

Butler found that Ohio law grants the park district the responsibility for the “preservation of good order within and adjacent to parks” and “the protection and preservation of the parks … and of property.”

Butler is the same magistrate who handled the earlier preliminary injunction part of the lawsuit and ruled in late September against stopping the deer reduction program from starting. It did begin a couple of days after her ruling, which was affirmed by her boss, Judge Anthony Donofrio of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in November.

Marc Dann, the attorney who filed the civil action on behalf of the property owners, said by email Wednesday: “We disagree with the legal conclusion that the magistrate reached and will be filing an objection to the judge and if necessary an appeal.”

Attorney Jeff Crossman, who is part of Dann’s firm and served as legal counsel at the most recent hearing in the case, said he expected an appeal of the common pleas court ruling no matter what way it came out.

In response to the ruling, Aaron Young, Mill Creek MetroParks executive director stated in an email: “We are pleased with the recent ruling by the Court of Common Pleas, Mahoning County, Ohio and look forward to redirecting the critical financial resources that were needed to defend our position in this case to where they are most needed; to improving the MetroParks for the residents of Mahoning County.”

The 11-page ruling states that the plaintiffs and MetroParks disagree as to the accuracy of the data the MetroParks gathered showing too many deer per square mile, but “there has been no evidence presented that disputes the ecological impact on the park” of having a high number of deer.

“Thus, there are no material facts in dispute and the parties agree that there is a question of law presented to the court.” That question is “whether Mill Creek (MetroParks) has the legal authority to implement the deer management program,” it states.

There being “no genuine issues as to material fact” is one factor that has to be present for a judge to rule in favor of summary judgment in a plaintiff’s favor, the ruling notes. Both parties sought summary judgment on the lawsuit.

Summary judgment is a ruling by a judge short of trial, which Magistrate Butler granted in favor of the MetroParks.

The magistrate found that the property owners do have standing to bring the action, as an earlier ruling by the Youngstown based 7th District Court of Appeals found that “owners of property adjacent to or abutting upon a public have a special interest therein, distinct from the general public, which enables them to maintain a suit to (prohibit) the misuse of the park.”

The ruling says that one of the state laws regarding the powers of a park district cited in the arguments made in this case may not even apply to this controversy.

But if it does, the decision is still the same: The MetroParks has the authority to reduce the number of deer in a park system because the law “implicitly authorizes such action,” and “it is a longstanding principle of Ohio law that public officers not only have those powers that are expressly delegated to them by statute, but those powers necessarily implied from the powers so delegated.”

It stated that “it is not the business of this court or anyone for that matter, to substitute its judgment for that of Mill Creek (MetroParks.) Instead, we must defer to the park in making these decisions.”

It noted that Ohio law gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife authority to create and implement “the rules upon which wildlife, including white tailed deer, can be hunted or killed. In this instance, the Division of Wildlife cosigned the deer management plan. It issued a permit to Mill Creek (MetroParks) for the targeted removal of white tail deer, and issued permits to individual hunters through a lottery for the hunt.”

Have an interesting story? Email Ed Runyan at erunyan@vindy.com


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