COLUMBUS (TDB) -- An Ohio soybean farmer who initially won $2,235 from the state after claiming street lights shining at night along a busy highway kept his crop from maturing won't be harvesting any taxpayer cash for damages after all. If the decision had stood, it could have set a precedent making government projects bigger targets for property rights defenders.
The Ohio Court of Claims reversed the soybean decision last month in a verdict that is beginning to draw attention this week from land-use and eminent-domain watchers from across the nation.
Patty Salkin, associate dean at Albany Law School in New York's capital, plowed into the Ohio soybean ruling on her legal blog Law Of The Land. She said the court of claims decided the state's traffic safety lights weren't an illegal taking of property under the Ohio Constitution.
When The Daily Bellwether examined the court files in Columbus, it learned that farmer Ronald L. Newell contended 7.18 acres of soybeans alongside U.S. 23 in Wyandot County didn't ripen for harvest along with the rest of his crop in October 2005. The Ohio Department of Transportation agreed that its street lights shining a night probably had some effect, but it did not accept financial responsibility. Newell won an administrative decision earlier this year.
But Judge J. Craig Wright tossed it out. He said the high-mast lights didn't create an uncompensated taking for the farmer's land.
"If the framers of the Ohio Constitution intended to require compensation whenever property was damaged by government activity, they could have provided so in unmistakable language. Many states have done so. Their constitutions provide in substance that private property shall not be taken for or damaged by public use without compensation . . The court finds that although plaintiff suffered a lost of a portion of his 2005 bean crop, he has failed to prove that he incurred a harm that differed in kind rather than degree from the general public . . and plaintiff's claim must fail."