WARREN - An Ohio Appeals Court in Franklin County has ordered Ohio's Court of Claims to hear a case in which a local water treatment company is seeking more than $3 million in damages from Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The lawsuit stemmed from Patriot Water Treatment LLC's accusations that ODNR hid and destroyed public records that would have aided Patriot in its related environmental fight with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
The case against ODNR had been dismissed in April after a judge ruled the Court of Claims - a court that must be utilized when someone is suing the Ohio government - lacked jurisdiction and that the matter being disputed should have been handled during an earlier case before an environmental appeals board.
Patriot appealed the decision and this week the Tenth District Court of Appeals sided with Patriot on one argument and with ODNR on the other, ultimately sending the case back to the Court of Claims for further proceedings.
Patriot Water, based in Lisbon with a plant in Warren, treats brine waste water generated in the oil and natural gas drilling industry, then disposes of it through the Warren Pollution Control Department. Permits allowing the disposal were initially granted in 2010 by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, but the agency later issued new permits to Warren's Water Pollution Control Department that included a ban on accepting brine water treated at Patriot.
The ban shut down Patriot's operations for three months last year while Patriot fought the decision before the Environmental Review Appeals Commission. Ultimately, Patriot won a challenge of ODNR's ruling through ERAC, but lost millions of dollars in business during the process.
Patriot Water brought the lawsuit in November alleging the state had hid and destroyed public records that would have helped Patriot resolve the ERAC case more quickly.
The Ohio Attorney General's office, which is representing ODNR, had argued for the dismissal, maintaining the court should have no jurisdiction to hear appeals and that Patriot's lawsuit is "in essence, nothing more than a litany of the disputes that Patriot and (the OEPA) have already resolved" before ERAC.
Bott had maintained at the time that it was "absolutely the right court for seeking damages," because it is the only Ohio court where damages can be sought against a state agency.
An ODNR spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.
It is the second Appeals Court ruling in as many weeks that went in Patriot's favor.
The same court of appeals on Nov. 26 sided with Bott in a related legal fight to secure public records from ODNR.
That decision overruled a May magistrate's opinion and ordered ODNR to turn over documents including emails and other records requested more than two years ago.
The records had been requested by the attorney for use in separate litigation by her clients Patriot Water Treatment of Warren and Warren city, which are challenging changes by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency that effectively led to the shutdown of Patriot Water's Warren operations.