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Village of New Holland v. Murphy

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Pickaway

June 19, 2019

VILLAGE OF NEW HOLLAND, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MICHAEL J. MURPHY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Jack D'Aurora and John M. Gonzales, The Behal Law Group LLC, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

          James R. Kingsley, Circleville, Ohio, for Appellees.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          Jason P. Smith, Presiding Judge

         {¶1} This is an appeal from a Pickaway County Court of Common Pleas judgment entry denying Appellant, Village of New Holland's, motion for a permanent injunction seeking to enjoin Appellees, Michael Murphy, et al., from operating a business from his residence in violation of the village's zoning ordinances. On appeal, Appellant contends that 1) in deciding whether to grant a permanent injunction, the trial court used the wrong burden of proof; and 2) in reviewing the village's zoning ordinances, the trial court used the wrong standard of review.

         {¶2} Because we find merit to both of the assignments of error raised by Appellant, they are both sustained. As a result, the judgment of the trial court is reversed and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, in order to determine the matter in light of the correct standard of review, while applying the correct burden of proof.

         FACTS

         {¶3} The facts pertinent to this appeal are as follows. On August 30, 2017, Appellant, Village of New Holland, filed a complaint for injunction against Appellee, Michael Murphy. Appellee's wife was later joined as a party to the lawsuit. The complaint alleged Appellant was entitled to a permanent injunction pursuant to R.C. 713.13 barring Appellees from operating a business on their property, which was located in a residential district. The complaint further alleged that Appellees had "applied for and received a purported 'conditional use permit' for the property" on January 30, 2002, but that the conditional use permit (hereinafter "CUP") did not specify that Appellees were permitted to run a business on their residential property. Appellants further alleged that Appellees' business, which involves the repair of lawn and garden equipment and tractors, was a prohibited use on residential property, and that a variance, as opposed to a CUP, would have been required under the zoning code. Appellants alleged further deficiencies in the process that resulted in the issuance of the purported CUP, however, as those issues are not pertinent to our disposition on appeal, we do not include them. Appellant thereafter filed a motion for a preliminary and permanent injunction, the basis of which appeared to be increased wear and tear and road damage the village attributed to heavy equipment being driven to and from Appellees' business. Appellees' position regarding the basis for the request for the injunction was that Appellant could not use zoning ordinances to enforce weight restrictions on streets.

         {¶4} Appellees filed an answer asserting multiple defenses and a general denial of the allegations of the complaint. During the course of the litigation, Appellees filed an exhibit, which was a document entitled "Conditional Use Permit On Property Of Michael Murphy And Ruth Murphy." The document specified it applied to Appellees' residential address, which was zoned "R1 & R2[.]" single family homes and two family homes, respectively. The document was signed by four members of the zoning board and was dated January 30, 2002.

         {¶5} The matter eventually proceeded to a bench trial. Various witnesses testified, including several of Appellees' neighbors and then-members of the zoning board, regarding their recollections as to when Appellees initially obtained the purported CUP back in 2002. Because most of this witness testimony relates to the deficiencies regarding the issuance of the purported CUP, as alleged in the complaint and which we have ultimately determined not to be pertinent to this appeal, we do not include it here. Of importance to the within matter, however, Mr. Murphy testified at trial. Of relevance, he testified that he was actually a member of the zoning board at the time he applied for the CUP in 2002. He testified that he recused himself from the meeting and did not vote on his application. He testified he believed he had been granted a CUP that permitted him to both build a new garage on his residential property, and to also conduct his repair business from that garage. Importantly, he testified that he was unaware if a resolution was ever passed granting him a CUP and he was unable to produce any evidence indicating a resolution had been passed. He further testified that he had applied for the CUP so that he could downsize his existing business and relocate it to his residential property. He further testified that as a result of the issuance of the CUP, he was issued a building permit, which led to him to build an additional garage on his residential property. He testified that his repair business is currently his only source of income.

         {¶6} Clair Betzco, Jr., mayor of the village, testified on behalf of Appellant. He testified that despite a thorough search, the only document he could find regarding the CUP at issue was the document filed by Appellees, as referenced above. He stated he found it in the village administrator's filing cabinet in an unmarked folder in 2017, but that it should have been in the clerk's office in a filing cabinet marked "Permit Uses." Incidentally, there was testimony introduced at trial indicating Mr. Murphy may have actually served as Village Administrator in 2002. Mavis Yourchuck, Village Clerk, also testified for Appellant. She testified that she physically handed Mr. Murphy the document purporting to be a conditional use permit. She also testified, however, that council meeting minutes from February 11, 2002, just twelve days after the CUP was purportedly issued, indicated the CUP was stopped.

         {¶7} After hearing the trial testimony and considering post-trial arguments submitted by the parties, the trial court ultimately issued a decision denying Appellant's request for a permanent injunction. It is from that judgment that Appellant now brings its timely appeal, setting forth two assignments of error for our review.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

"I. IN DECIDING WHETHER TO GRANT A PERMANENT INJUNCTION, THE TRIAL COURT USED THE WRONG BURDEN OF PROOF.
II. IN REVIEWING THE VILLAGE'S ZONING ORDINANCES, THE TRIAL COURT USED THE WRONG STANDARD OF REVIEW."

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR II

         {¶8} For ease of analysis, we address Appellant's assignments of error out of order. In its first assignment of error, Appellant contends that in reviewing the village's zoning ordinances, the trial court used the wrong standard of review. Appellant raises three questions under this assignment of error. First, Appellant questions whether the conditional use permit (CUP) at issue in this case was a final order. Second, Appellant questions whether, in reviewing the CUP, the trial court employed the correct standard of review. Third, Appellant questions whether this Court should review the CUP de novo. Appellees respond by arguing that the trial court used the proper standard of review when reviewing the CUP, which was the "presumption of regularity" standard. However, Appellees concede the trial court improperly applied the standard of review set forth in R.C. 2506.04, which governs appeals from administrative decisions.

         {¶9} Appellant essentially contends the trial court made a legal error by applying an incorrect standard of review below. In Wray v. Wessell, 4th Dist. Scioto Nos. 15CA3724, 15CA3725, 2016-Ohio-8584, ¶11-13, we considered an argument alleging the trial court had abused its discretion in the admission of evidence. In reaching our decision we observed that when an appellant alleges a trial court's evidentiary ruling was based on a misconstruction of the law or an erroneous standard, the appellate court must review the trial court's evidentiary ruling using a de novo standard of review. Citing State v. Morris, 132 Ohio St.3d 337, 2012-Ohio-2407, 972 N.E.2d 528, ¶16; in turn citing Castlebrook, Ltd. v. Dayton Properties Ltd. Partnership, 78 Ohio App.3d 340, 346, 604 N.E.2d 808 (2nd Dist. 1992); see also Shaffer v. Ohio Health Corp, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 03AP-102, 2004-Ohio-63, ¶6 ("however, where a trial court has misstated the law or applied the incorrect law, giving rise to a purely legal question, our review is de novo.")

         {¶10} Similarly, we conclude Appellant's argument that the trial court applied an incorrect standard of review in considering the proceedings below involves a legal question, which we review de novo. Further, in Matter of Name Change of Davis, 4th Dist. Ross. No. 1774, 1992 WL 208905, *4, we concluded that an appellant must affirmatively show prejudice resulted from a trial court's utilization of an improper legal standard. With these principles in mind, we now turn to the merits of Appellant's second assignment of error.

         {¶11} In order to address the proper standard of review that should have been employed by the trial court, we must first determine the type of action and procedural posture of the case that was before the trial court. A review of the record reveals that the trial court appears to have characterized the matter as an appeal from an administrative decision approving a CUP in favor of Appellees, as opposed to the filing of an initial complaint for an injunction by Appellant, based upon Appellees' alleged violation of zoning ordinances. As such, the trial court approached its review of the matter by stating as follows:

"Because Plaintiff is challenging the validity of the CUP, this Court will review the original issuance of the CUP, an administrative action by the Board of Zoning Appeals ("BZA"). Pursuant to R.C. 2506.04, in an administrative appeal, the common pleas court considers the whole record, including any new or additional evidence, and determines whether the administrative order is unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, or unsupported by the preponderance of substantial, reliable, and probative evidence. In reviewing an appeal of an administrative decision, a court of common pleas begins with the presumption the board's determination is valid, and the appealing party bears the burden of showing otherwise."[1]

         The trial court made several statements regarding its standard of review throughout its decision, explaining that, in light of its standard of review, it was presuming the validity of the "board's determination[.]" It appears implicit from the language employed by the trial court that the court was assuming the ...


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