Minster asks Court of Appeals to grant immunity

By Sandy Rose Schwieterman - For the Sidney Daily News

LIMA – It is likely that an unusual legal maneuver has put on hold until the end of this year any resolution of the lawsuit of Goebels versus the Village of Minster and Helms and Sons Construction.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals in Lima has been asked to decide whether the Village of Minster can be granted immunity in the lawsuit asking for damages from flooding that occurred May 17, 2019, in a sewer construction site contracted for by the village with Helms and Sons.

“This case was unique in that the appeals process usually does not begin until after a verdict is rendered in the original lawsuit,” Gregory Miller, 3rd District Court of Appeals administrator, said.

The village had moved its appeal to the Lima court earlier this month after being denied immunity by Fred Pepple, presiding judge for the Auglaize County Common Pleas Court, where the original case was filed in April.

The original suit claims both Helms and Minster are responsible for flooding after a rainstorm sent 6 inches to 2 feet of sewage and storm water from a sewer reconstruction project into neighboring homes along Second Street in the village.

In both the Common Pleas Court and Appeals Court, the Village of Minster has argued it is not liable for damages because Ohio Revised Code protects municipalities from lawsuits while they perform their contracted duties.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have maintained the village is liable for flooding damages to the homes because of changes made in the project plans as well as poor judgment in managing the project.

The remaining defendant, Helms and Sons, has said from the beginning that it simply was following orders given by the village when the flooding occurred.

In regards to the appeals process, Miller said a decision on village immunity probably won’t be handed down until late in December or early January 2021.

The court administrator explained that before an appeals court date can be set to hear the case, the village has until July 15 to file a merit brief in district court explaining why the municipality should be held harmless.

Following that, the plaintiffs have 20 days to file a reply brief disputing the reasons. Then, the village would have 10 days to file another reply.

Miller said once all replies and disputes are submitted, the hearing date to begin oral arguments would be set, most likely in late September or early October.

The court administrator noted the entire process could be delayed even more should any of the parties ask for extra time to respond.

Miller said once it is decided if the village is liable or not, the original lawsuit in Auglaize County then will go forward.

“We believe that Judge Pepple got it right and look forward to the decision being affirmed by the Court of Appeals,” said Sean Alto, of Cooper Elliot, the Columbus law firm representing the plaintiffs.

A call to the attorney for Helms and Sons, Green and Green of Dayton, was not returned at press time.

By Sandy Rose Schwieterman

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.