On Sept. 5, 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in the case of Rumpke Sanitary Landfill, Inc. vs. Colerain Township, Ohio, Case No. 2011-0181, that the landfill operated by Rumpke was subject to local zoning regulations and was not an exempt “public utility.” The decision essentially thwarts future expansion of the landfill and allows the local zoning commission to regulate the facility based on quality of life issues for surrounding neighbors.
After pursuing an action in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court against the Township Trustees for denying the company’s application for expansion of its nearly 350 acre landfill operation, the Common Pleas Court ruled that the landfill was exempt from local zoning regulations because it fell within the legal definition of a “public utility”. The First District Court of Appeals upheld the Trial Court’s decision and the Township appealed again. The Ohio Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and found that Rumpke Sanitary Landfill does not meet the definition of a “public utility” according to the Ohio Revised Code Section 519.211 and therefore is subject to local zoning requirements.
The Court’s analysis focused on determining whether the facility met the standards for a “public utility” including considering the factors related to the “public service” and “public concern” characteristics of a public utility. The Supreme Court further analyzed whether the landfill was regulated as a “public utility” and citing a 1939 case found that:
“factors utilized in determining whether an enterprise conducts itself in such a way as to become a matter of public concern including the good or service provided, competition in the local marketplace, and regulation by governmental authority. None of these factors is controlling. Nevertheless, in a case where the business enterprise serves such a substantial part of the public that its rates, charges and methods of operation become a public concern, it can be characterized as a public utility.”
The Court found that the Rumpke Sanitary Landfill operates as a private sanitary landfill and is not regulated as a public utility because of the lack of governmental regulation over the public-service and public-concern factors. In a 7 to 0 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s decision affirming the Trial Court’s declaration that Rumpke is a “public utility” and not subject to local zoning requirements and remanded the case back to the Trial Court for further proceedings.