To our friends, clients and colleagues in local and regional government, higher education and the nonprofit sector, welcome to our latest Monday Message from the Public Law Group at McDonald Hopkins. In today’s email, assembled by attorneys Teresa Metcalf Beasley and Kevin Butler, you’ll find insights into areas of law we’re watching on your behalf.
In today’s edition:
- In our monthly segment, ‘5 Questions With’ Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield
- Parma v. Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation: refiled class-action alleges certain public employers were overcharged for workers’ comp premiums
- Eighth District keeps intact state law regulating traffic cameras, but blocks portions penalizing photo-enforcement municipalities financially
- Join us Thursday for the first in our IP Innovation series, featuring executive pointers on surviving the pandemic
In our monthly segment, ‘5 Questions With’ Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield
In today’s edition of the Monday Message, we’re excited to continue our series, “5 Questions With” – a monthly segment in which we ask local, regional and statewide leaders to pass along their wisdom on items of current and lasting interest, all in a brief, easy-to-read format.
For our latest installment we’ve asked Frank Whitfield, serving in his initial term as mayor of Elyria, to recap his first full year in office and to look ahead on his administration’s plans to pump life into what he calls the effects of being a “legacy city”: disused, “old, heavy industrial sites.” Mayor Whitfield offers his insights with a vibrancy that is backed by concrete plans: to foster economic development using the city’s “BAG” strategy; to implement the new Skill City Promise program, a public-private partnership that provides free community-college education to residents pursuing certain occupations; and to utilize the resources provided through the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in order to create metrics around municipal performance, efficiency and customer service. Read more from Whitfield here or click the banner above.
Parma v. Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation: refiled class-action alleges certain public employers were overcharged for workers’ comp premiums
In a Cuyahoga County lawsuit previously filed, withdrawn and now refiled, Cleveland’s largest suburb is challenging the legality of premiums that the state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has charged it and similar public employers over the past 20 years. The City of Parma alleges that while the bureau was undercharging group-rated employers – traditional private companies in Ohio that voluntarily pool their risk – the state agency in turn overcharged individual-rated public employers like Parma in order to make up the difference in the statewide workers’ comp fund.
Ohio law requires public employers (except those that are self-insured) to pay into the public insurance fund amounts of money established by the bureau sufficient to cover claims statewide. Employers can choose from a range of plans, including individual-rated and group-rated plans. Parma alleges here that “[t]he systematic undercharging of group-rated employers directly impacts the base premium rate levels, and in particular has directly caused the wrongful and discriminatory overcharging of Parma and all other similarly situated public employers.”
While Parma is eschewing money damages in favor of a declaration by the court that the bureau has been overcharging individually-rated public employers, the implications of a favorable decision could be farther-reaching. The city points out in its complaint that the bureau refunded approximately $420 million to individual-rated private employers in 2015 to settle a similar class action suit. If Parma’s class action suit sees daylight, we’d expect many municipalities and other public entities to opt in.
The case is City of Parma, Ohio v. Administrator, OBWC, Case No. CV 21 943131 filed in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on January 20. We’ll continue to follow the case and keep you updated here.
Eighth District keeps intact state law regulating traffic cameras, but blocks portions penalizing photo-enforcement municipalities financially
On January 14 Cuyahoga County’s appellate court upheld provisions of H.B. 62, an omnibus transportation bill passed in 2019 that also intended to provide a comprehensive regulation of photographic traffic enforcement in cities and villages. But the court blocked enforcement of portions of the law that penalized municipalities by offsetting traffic-camera revenue from their share of the state’s Local Government Fund – an important revenue stream for all municipalities – and that required local governments to pay the court costs related to appeals from traffic-camera tickets.
The court analyzed H.B. 62 under a challenge by the Village of Newburgh Heights and City of East Cleveland seeking to enjoin the provisions of the law that (1) require a police officer to be present at every photo enforcement device while in operation; (2) make municipal and county courts, rather than local administrative settings, home to all appeal hearings related to traffic cameras; (3) require municipalities to cover the court costs related to appeals; and (4) reduce Local Government Fund allocations by any revenues from traffic photo enforcement. The trial court blocked the first of these four provisions, and the municipalities appealed the trial court’s ruling upholding the second, third and fourth.
Using the traditional home-rule preemption and conflict analysis, the appellate court upheld the provisions of the law regarding court jurisdiction for appeals from traffic-camera tickets, but blocked enforcement of the provisions that come with financial implications for municipalities operating photo-enforcement programs. The court found “no overriding state interest” in offsetting Local Government Fund receipts and requiring municipalities to advance court costs, holding, “Just because the state has the power to control state spending does not mean that it has the power to penalize local authorities who are operating traffic-camera programs, something the Supreme Court stated local authorities had the authority to do” under the Ohio Constitution’s home-rule language. Although the case was remanded to the trial court, it remains to be seen whether either side will appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Read the Eighth District panel’s opinion here. We’ll follow the action and report back in a future Monday Message.
Join us Thursday for the first in our IP Innovation series, featuring executive pointers on surviving the pandemic
Join us on Thursday, January 28 at 1 p.m. for the first online discussion in McDonald Hopkins’ new IP Innovation series, presented by the firm’s intellectual property practice group and geared toward employers of all types and sizes. The first session, “CEO Innovation Roundtable,” will be led by our IP Department chair, Dave Cupar, and will feature a roundtable discussion with CEOs from Vitamix and Lifeway Foods on how to survive during a pandemic and thrive post-pandemic. Register for the free one-hour web event and learn more here.
Feel free to contact any member of the McDonald Hopkins Public Law team if you have questions or need assistance on any of the matters we’ve covered above or with your legal needs in general.
Teresa Metcalf Beasley
Chair, Public Law