Ohio Supreme Court Decision Impacts Townships

August 2, 2016

On July 26, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that there is no provision in Ohio law that required a public utility to obtain permission from the county engineer or the township to leave a utility pole in an existing location, following a road-widening project on a township road. The decision in the case of Link v. FirstEnergy Corp., 2016-Ohio-5083, was not unanimous; three of the seven justices dissented. (The OTA had filed an amicus brief in this case in support of the authority of the township.)

 

In Link, the Bainbridge Township Board of Trustees voted to improve and widen a road and worked with the county engineer on the project. In correspondence with the county engineer, the utility eventually committed to moving 24 utility poles because they would be closer to the improved and widened road in their original position. Ultimately, the utility refused to move eight remaining poles, despite written requests from the county engineer and the township trustees.

 

The road re-opened with the eight poles unmoved. Mr. Link was injured when his motorcycle was struck by a deer and he collided with one of the eight poles. (This was the second accident involving one of these poles.) In reversing the lower court decisions, the Supreme Court concluded that the poles did not interfere with the usual and ordinary course of travel. The majority opinion observed that Mr. Link would have had a better argument against the utility if the township had formally ordered the removal or relocation of the utility pole by declaring them to be a "public nuisance" that "obstructs or endangers public travel" pursuant to Revised Code §5571.14. (Neither the township nor the county engineer was sued by the Links in this case.)