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City of Norwood v. Horney - 2006-Ohio-3799, 110 Ohio St. 3d 353, 853 N.E.2d 1115


When a statute is challenged under the due-process doctrine prohibiting vagueness, a court must determine whether the enactment: (1) provides sufficient notice of its proscriptions to facilitate compliance by persons of ordinary intelligence, and; (2) is specific enough to prevent official arbitrariness or discrimination in its enforcement. The determination of whether a statute is impermissibly imprecise, indefinite, or incomprehensible must be made in light of the facts presented in the given case and the nature of the enactment challenged. In undertaking that inquiry into the statute or ordinance at issue, the courts are to apply varying levels of scrutiny. The difference between the various levels of scrutiny for vagueness has never been definitively spelled out, as in equal protection jurisprudence. Though the degree of review is not described with specificity, regulations that are directed to economic matters and impose only civil penalties are subject to a less strict vagueness test, but if the enactment threatens to inhibit the exercise of constitutionally protected rights, a more stringent vagueness test is to be applied. 


Appellee City of Norwood was once home to several manufacturing plants and businesses that provided a substantial tax base for the municipality. Despite that industrial component, Norwood was a desirable place to live. Norwood's neighborhoods were composed of traditional single-family houses and duplexes that provided homes to generations of families and many individuals. Over the past 40 years, however, Norwood underwent many changes and over time, businesses arose in places where houses once stood. The neighborhood became less residential and more commercial. A private, limited-liability company, Rookwood Partners, Ltd. (Rookwood), entered discussions with Norwood about redeveloping the neighborhood for the construction of more than 200 apartments and over 500,000 square feet of office and retail space. Because Norwood was suffering financially, it agreed to the project. Norwood and Rookwood culminated in a redevelopment contract in which Rookwood agreed to reimburse the city for the expenses of the project, including the costs arising from any need to use eminent domain to appropriate the property necessary for the project. Plaintiffs Horney and other homeowners that resisted the redevelopment plan filed an action in Ohio state court questioning the taking of their property and seeking an injunction. The trial court found that the taking was justified due to the deteriorating condition of the neighborhood and returned the cases for valuation. The trial court refused to enjoin the development company from damaging the property pending appeal. The Court of Appeals, Hamilton County (Ohio), denied a stay of the trial court's judgment. The owners appealed and a stay was granted.


Was the taking proper?




The state supreme court held that the trial court and the appellate court erred in finding that the appropriation of the owners' property was permitted. The trial court properly found an abuse of discretion in Norwood's finding that the area targeted for redevelopment was a slum, blighted, or deteriorated. However, it erred in finding that judicial review of appropriations was limited and had to be deferential to the municipality. Because Norwood could not justify its taking of the property on either the basis that the neighborhood was deteriorating or on the basis that the redeveloped area would bring economic value to Norwood, there was no showing that the taking was for public use. Further, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 163.19's blanket proscription on stays or injunctions against the taking and using of appropriated property pending appellate review was an unconstitutional encroachment on the judiciary's constitutional and inherent authority in violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine. 

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