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State v. Whites Landing Fisheries, LLC

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Erie

May 26, 2017

State of Ohio Appellant
v.
Whites Landing Fisheries, LLC Appellee

         Trial Court No. CRB 1500352ABC

          Mike DeWine, Ohio Attorney General, Robert W. Cheugh, II, and Kenneth H. Egbert., Jr., Assistant Attorneys General, for appellant.

          William H. Smith, Jr. and Samuel A.J. Sidoti, for appellee.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT

          MAYLE, J.

         {¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, the state of Ohio, appeals the September 26, 2016 judgment of the Huron Municipal Court, granting the motion to dismiss of defendant- appellee, Whites Landing Fisheries, Inc. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court judgment.

         I. Background

         {¶ 2} Whites Landing Fisheries ("WLF") is a company engaged in the commercial fishing industry and licensed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources ("ODNR"). On November 10, 2015, WLF was charged with three separate counts of harvesting Lake Erie yellow perch in excess of the established quota, a violation of R.C. 1533.341 and Ohio Adm. Code 1501:31-3-12. Because WLF had two prior convictions, it faced permanent revocation of its commercial fishing license if convicted of any of the three charges.

         {¶ 3} Quotas for the harvesting of Lake Erie yellow perch are determined annually by pound and are allocated by statistical districts called "management units." R.C. 1533.341; Ohio Adm.Code 1501:31-3-12(A). Lake Erie yellow perch "management units" are defined by Ohio Adm. Code 1501:31-1-02(MMM) as "the geographic area within the lake Erie fishing district by which yellow perch quotas are allocated. * * *." The Ohio regulations define three Lake Erie yellow perch management units.

         {¶ 4} In a letter dated April 14, 2015, ODNR notified WLF that "there will be no [commercial] allocation [of yellow perch] in Management Unit 1 (MU1), 1.311 million lbs in Management Unit 2 (MU2), and 266, 030 lbs in Management Unit 3 (MU3)." In other words, the 2015 yellow perch quota for management unit one was zero. The state claims that WLF harvested yellow perch from management unit one. Two of the counts against WLF alleged that it harvested 100 pounds of yellow perch, and one alleged that it harvested 200 pounds.

         {¶ 5} At issue here are the definitions of "management unit one" and "management unit two." Those units are defined by Ohio Adm. Code 1501:31-1-02(MMM) as follows:

(1) Unit 1
(a) Lake Erie yellow perch management unit one shall consist of all waters in Lucas, Ottawa and Erie counties between east and west boundaries as defined:
(i) The west boundary is the Michigan-Ohio state line beginning in Maumee bay and extending northeast to the United States-Canada international line in Lake Erie including all waters in Lucas and Ottawa counties.
(ii) The east boundary begins at the Huron pier lighthouse, extends along an imaginary line running northeast to the eighty-two degree, thirty minute meridian and thenceforth along the meridian north to the United States-Canada international line.
(2)Unit 2
(a) Lake Erie yellow perch management unit two shall consist of all waters in Lorain and Cuyahoga counties between west and east boundaries as defined:
(i) The west boundary shall begin in the Huron river, including all boat ramps or marinas connected to the Huron river, then extending from the Huron pier lighthouse along an imaginary line northeast to the eighty-two degree, thirty minute meridian and thenceforth along that meridian north to the United States-Canada international line.
(ii) The east boundary begins at the Fairport harbor light, extends north along the eighty-one degree, twenty minute meridian to the United States-Canada international line. (Emphasis added.)

         {¶ 6} WLF argues-and the trial court agreed-that Ohio Adm. Code 1501:31-1-02(MMM)(1)(a)(ii) and (MMM)(2)(a)(i), defining the east boundary of management unit one and the west boundary of management unit two, are ambiguous in their use of the word "northeast." WLF's argument and the trial court's conclusion are premised on the fact that https://www.merriam-webster.com/ provides more than one definition for "northeast": (a) "the general direction between north and east, " and (b) "the point midway between the north and east compass points." The state insisted that "northeast" refers to a compass point of 45 degrees, but the court concluded that "northeast" could refer to any point beyond zero degrees but before 90 degrees. It held, therefore, that "management unit one, " is unconstitutionally vague, thereby rendering R.C. 1533.341 and Ohio Adm. Code 1501:31-3-12 "void as they are applied to the violations against" WLF.

         {¶ 7} It is from this judgment that the state appealed. It assigns the following errors for our review:

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR 1

OHIO ADM.CODE 1501:31-1-02(MMM) IS NOT VAGUE MERELY BECAUSE THE RULE DOES NOT DEFINE THE WORD "NORTHEAST" AS PART OF THE EAST BOUNDARY OF LAKE ERIE YELLOW PERCH MANAGEMENT UNIT 1 AND TWO ...

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