Appalachian Basin

CELDF Loses Another Frivolous Lawsuit, Local Mayor Calls Group “Plain Ignorant”

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has struck out, as yet another Ohio court rejected the premise of the group’s anti-fracking “community bill of rights.”  This loss means that not one Ohio court has upheld CELDF’s local fracking restrictions.

This week, the Ohio Court of Appeals’ dismissed the appeal of a 2014 class action lawsuit that Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhood (MADION) filed against Ohio officials and two oil and gas companies for supposedly violating their “community bill of rights” by permitting oil and gas operations in its boundaries. Similar to rulings in the past, this unanimous decision found that the state has the “sole and exclusive authority” to permit, locate, space, and regulate oil and gas wells in Ohio, and even added that the Broadview’s 2012 “bill of rights” was an attempt to “strip corporate entities of their rights under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.”

CELDF leaders lashed out to at the City of Broadview Heights and blamed local elected officials for their loss in court.  These actions combined with the CELDF’s general misunderstanding of Ohio State and local law prompted Broadview Height’s Mayor, Sam Alai, to call their antics “plain ignorant.”

History of Broadview Heights Case

MADION’s class action lawsuit against the state of Ohio, Gov. John Kasich, the city of Broadview Heights, and two energy companies was originally dismissed by the Cuyahoga County Court back in July 2015.  Specifically, the court denied their contention that their “community bill of rights” superseded state law.

Judge McCormick, who presided over the case, cited the Ohio Supreme Court’s February 17th ruling in his decision.  The Supreme Court’s ruling officially set the precedent that local governments cannot override the state’s authority to regulate the industry, nor may they discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct oil and gas activities and production operations that the state has permitted.

Throughout all of their unsuccessful legal debacles the CELDF’s antics have been particularly outlandish.  For example, this past January, as the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals weighed the legal merits of the matter inside the courtroom CELDF activists threw paper mâché “rocks” at each other as they acted out a scene from their dramatization “The People vs. The Corporate State.” Take a look at the video and try not to laugh.

It appears the appeals court did not find the performances compelling as it ruled unanimously to dismiss the case.  Importantly, the appeals court also repudiated the primary legal argument behind the so-called “community bill of rights,” specifically CELDF’s claim that “the people have an inalienable and fundamental right to local community self-government.”

CELDF has argued this claim by referring back to the Exeter Compact of 639, the Mayflower Compact, and the Articles of the Confederation for the United Colonies of 1643, to name a few “recent” events.  In response, the appellate court decision found,

After careful review of MADION’s arguments in their entirely, we find no merit to its position that the right to local community self-government entitles the people of Broadview Heights to enact laws that may not be pre-empted by state law. In addition to MADION’s inability to present any legal authority to support its arguments, MADION’s historical discourse ignores express provisions of the Ohio constitution…there is nothing in the Ohio constitution to suggest that the ‘people’ of a municipal corporation (city or village) possess the authority, independent and apart from the municipal corporation itself, to enact local ordinances that conflict with state law.” (Emphasis added)

The appellate court’s decision serves as an unqualified rebuke of “bill of rights” petition efforts that are taking place again in various areas in Ohio.  It is essential that Ohioans realize that CELDF’s ballot measures are unenforceable, preempted by state law, and frivolous.

CELDF’s Ongoing Campaign

We know that the out-of-state advocates for CELDF’s ballot measures do not care about the impact that these “bill of rights” have on the communities they convince to support them. As CELDF’s founder said,

“If enough of these cases get in front of a judge, there is a chance we could start to have an impact within the judiciary. [I]f a town goes bankrupt trying to defend one of our ordinances, well, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed to trigger a national movement.” (emphasis added.)

This rhetoric was recently echoed by CELDF’s Ohio organizer as well, who slammed the City of Broadview Heights’ local government for failing to defend “the people’s inalienable community rights to local self-governance, and clean air and water.” Not only does CELDF discount the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, it is now disregarding all laws and all branches of government, even at the local level. As CELDF Ohio organizer Tish O’Dell recently stated,

“If no branch of our government is going to protect us from these corporate harms, then our government has ceased to be legitimate.” (emphasis added)

City of Broadview Heights’ Mayor Sam Alai shot back by saying,

“For someone like Mrs. O’Dell to say otherwise is plain ignorant. She does not have a law license and is not qualified to practice law nor render legal opinions in any way. She certainly does not speak for the city of Broadview Heights nor does she know our legal strategy.” (emphasis added).

This is not the first time a local mayor has spoken out against CELDF and their attacks on local communities. In Youngstown, where the so-called “community bill of rights” has lost five consecutive times, and cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, the Mayor McNally rightly pointed out,

 “I do think it’s a larger issue than just the City of Youngstown. The folks that are involved, the folks that drafted it are all out of state folks that are pushing an agenda…that is detrimental to the City of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.” (emphasis added)

Mayor McNally went on to say,

“This is not just an issue that is germane to the City of Youngstown. The Community Bill of Rights advocates have tried these issues in other cities in Ohio; they have tried them in Pennsylvania as well. I don’t think yet they have ever been to be enforceable issues. This is a concerted effort by outside interest groups to control our chances at economic development.” (emphasis added)

When it comes to extreme activists, like CELDF, and other out-of-state groups, it is abundantly clear that they have no respect for the law, elected officials, or the regulatory process. They continue to dupe communities into thinking that their cause is somehow noble, when in reality they are making a mockery of the local communities who they attempt to organize. This was best described by folks in Mora County, New Mexico who said, CELDF made “suckers” out of local residents:

“It was totally foolish to begin with, to even try this. How do you pass an ordinance that’s going to override the state and the federal constitution? … I don’t know if they were playing us in Mora County as suckers or they were sincere in their beliefs. I would probably tend to the former rather than the latter, given that Mora County was the first county to try this and failed miserably at it… I don’t know where we would find the money. If you look at the county’s budget, they barely have enough money to provide the bare essential services … (The ban) hasn’t made any sense to anyone with any sense to begin with.” (emphasis added)

Clearly Ohio voters have grown wise to these antics as ballot measure have been struck down all over the state; however, this most recent court ruling is exceptionally noteworthy as it provides further evidence of the consequences of CELDF’s misinformation campaigns.

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