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Daily Court Reporter - Supreme Court of Ohio heard four oral arguments yesterday, including one on student searches

 

Supreme Court of Ohio heard four oral arguments yesterday, including one on student searches

Dan Trevas, Supreme Court of Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday heard oral arguments in four cases yesterday and heard an additional four the day before that.

Oral Arguments

The four cases considered yesterday and the four that were considered on Tuesday, February 28th, were streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.

Summaries Available

Along with the descriptions in this article, the Office of Public Information has released in-depth summaries of the 8 cases available online at: http://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/previews/default.asp#.WJDE73-13x4

Wednesday, March 1

These four cases were heard yesterday:

Ronald and Barbara Bohlen v. Anadarko E&P Onshore LLC et al., Case no. 2015-0187

Fourth District Court of Appeals (Washington County)

ISSUES:

Are “delay rental” payments equivalent to “minimum advance royalty” payments in an oil and gas lease, and can they be construed to be the same when seeking to terminate a lease for nonpayment?

Are “delay rental” clauses limited to the primary term of an oil and gas lease or can a lease’s language alter the meaning of the term to extend the clause into the secondary term?

BACKGROUND:

Ronald and Barbara Bohlen own 500 acres in Lawrence Township, Washington County, and entered into a lease in 2006 with Alliance Petroleum Corp. to explore and drill for oil and gas on six tracts of noncontiguous land. Alliance used a common oil and natural gas lease form, in which the lease contained a primary term that was to last one year, and a secondary term that extended indefinitely as long as oil and gas were produced or capable of being produced in paying quantities.

The primary term required drilling a well within the first year of the lease or paying a “delay rental” fee to postpone drilling. Alliance first drilled a well in September 2006 on one of the six Bohlen tracts, and later that month drilled a second well on a second tract. The first well produced a nominal amount of gas through 2007, but it didn’t produce oil. It hasn’t produced gas since 2008. The second well didn’t produce oil, but produced gas from 2007 to 2012. However, its production declined by more than half during that period.

Alliance partially assigned its interest in the Bohlens’ lease in 2011 to Anadarko E&P Onshore, which in 2014 assigned its interest to Artex Energy Group. The energy companies didn’t do any further drilling on the Bohlen property.

The lease’s delay rental provision obligated Alliance to pay $5,500 for each year it delayed drilling a well. An addendum to the lease contained a provision that stated: “In the event that during any calendar year the total royalties paid from production of the leased premises, shall be less than the annual rental of $5,500, lessee shall tender to lessor such sum that will equal to the $5,500 annual rental payment.”

The Bohlens interpreted the provision to mean that Alliance had to make up any royalty shortfall below $5,500 per year by paying the difference as a “rental payment.” Royalty payments for years 2008 through 2013 were below $5,500, and Alliance never made the full rental payments to assure the Bohlens received $5,500 annually.

Another provision of the lease indicated that if “rental payments” of $5,500 weren’t made the lease would terminate. The Bohlens noted that the standard form used by Alliance wouldn’t have terminated the lease for payment shortfalls, but the provision preventing termination was struck out on the contract.

The Bohlens filed a lawsuit against Alliance and Anadarko in Washington County Common Pleas Court in 2013, arguing that the companies’ failure to make the required payments terminated the lease. They also argued the lease’s language constituted an indefinite lease, which violated public policy and made it void.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the Bohlens, and the energy companies appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. The Fourth District reversed the decision, ruling the $5,500 payment language for royalties in the addendum didn’t make it part of the original lease to the point that it equated a delayed rental fee. It ruled the trial court conflated to the two provisions to find that nonpayment of the royalties triggered the termination clause.

The Fourth District found that “established precedent” generally limits the application of a delay rental fee to the primary term of a lease, which in this case was one year. The appellate court found Alliance complied with the lease because it commenced a well in the first year during the primary term and never triggered the delayed rental provision because it didn’t delay drilling. The company also paid the Bohlens $5,500 in royalties in 2007, which was during the primary term of the contract. The energy companies paid royalties to the Bohlens every year from 2006 to 2014, ranging from $4,172 to $5,500.

The Bohlens also argued that the contract implied that the energy companies were required to drill on each of the individual six tracts, seek out oil and gas, and pay royalties. They maintain the contract in reality forced the couple to waive the requirement and allowed the companies to postpone drilling indefinitely as long as they paid the rental fee. They contend that provision invalidates the contract, but the Fourth District disagreed, finding the drilling of the first well was sufficient to maintain the contract. The Fourth District ruled the energy companies didn’t have to pay a delayed rental or take action on the four unexplored tracts of land as long as the second well continued to produce paying quantities of gas.

The Bohlens appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. Artex Energy Corp., which acquired the lease interests, is defending the actions of the energy companies in the case before the Court.

City of Cleveland v. Benjamin S. Oles, Case nos. 2016-0172 and 2016-0282

Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County)

ISSUES:

Does investigative questioning of a driver in a police vehicle’s front seat during a routine traffic stop rise to the level of custodial interrogation incurring the protections guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1966)?

Was it improper for the trial court to suppress evidence gathered during field sobriety tests because that evidence was obtained independently of statements made to an officer when driver was in seated in patrol vehicle?

BACKGROUND:

Near the location where Interstates 71 and 90 split in Cleveland, a lieutenant with the Ohio State Highway Patrol was monitoring traffic on the evening of Sept. 19, 2014. He said he saw a vehicle cross suddenly from an I-90 lane to an I-71 lane. He stopped the vehicle and talked to the driver, Benjamin Oles. After smelling alcohol, the trooper had Oles move to the front seat of the patrol car.

The trooper questioned Oles, conducted field sobriety tests, and arrested him. Oles was charged in Cleveland Municipal Court with operating a vehicle while under the influence (OVI) of alcohol and for a marked lanes violation.

Before his trial, Oles asked the court to suppress the evidence obtained from the traffic stop, arguing that he was in police custody once he was seated in the patrol car. Finding that Oles should have been read his Miranda rights, the court granted the motion to exclude his statements to the trooper and the field sobriety test results.

The city of Cleveland appealed, but the Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court in January 2016. The Eighth District noted, however, that its decision conflicted with cases from other state appellate courts and notified the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court agreed that there is a conflict and accepted the case for review, along with an appeal from the city. The Court consolidated the two cases for consideration.

State of Ohio v. Sherry Bembry and Harsimran Singh, Case no. 2016-0238

Seventh District Court of Appeals (Mahoning County)

ISSUE: Is the exclusionary rule the appropriate remedy under the Ohio Constitution (Article 1, Section 14) for a violation of R.C. 2935.12, Ohio’s knock-and-announce statute?

BACKGROUND:

According to police testimony, a confidential informant working with police made two drug buys in October 2012 from Harsimran Singh at or near his apartment in Boardman, near Youngstown. After the exchange, the Boardman Police Department obtained a warrant to search the apartment where Singh and Sherry Bembry lived.

A group of officers went to the apartment building on Nov. 2 and knocked on Singh and Bembry’s door. The police heard a male voice ask, “Who is it?” An officer responded: “Police. Open the door.” The officers then used a battering ram to knock down the door and enter the residence. During a search, police stated they found seven-tenths of a gram of heroin and two guns, and seized several other items, including a Playstation video game console and a 50-inch television.

Singh was indicted in February 2013 for heroin possession, trafficking, and receiving stolen property – all felonies. Bembry was charged with permitting drug abuse, also a felony.

Singh and Bembry asked the trial court to exclude the evidence police gathered during the search. In May 2014, the court granted the motion to suppress the evidence, determining that the police didn’t announce their purpose before they forcibly entered the apartment. R.C. 2935.12, referred to in the briefs as Ohio’s “knock-and-announce rule,” requires officers to state their intention to execute a warrant before breaking through a door or window.

The Mahoning County prosecutor appealed to the Seventh District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s decision. The Seventh District concluded that the exclusionary rule didn’t apply because the evidence was found when the police executed a valid search warrant. The appeals court based its decision on a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Hudson v. Michigan.

Singh and Bembry filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court, which accepted the case.

State of Ohio v. Joshua Polk, Case no. 2016-0271

Tenth District Court of Appeals (Franklin County)

ISSUES:

Did a trial judge properly suppress from the evidence a gun found on a high school student who was searched as a result of an earlier search of an unattended book bag found on a school bus that had the student’s name on an item in it and bullets in the bag?

Does the exclusionary rule, which bars admissibility of evidence from an illegal search, apply to searches conducted by public school employees?

To be a constitutional search, must a public school employee’s search of an unattended book bag only meet the standard of being reasonable, or does the employee’s intent determine whether the search is permitted?

BACKGROUND:

Joshua Polk, a student at Whetstone High School in the Columbus City School District, was indicted on one count of illegal conveyance or possession of a deadly weapon in a school safety zone. Polk sought to suppress from the evidence in his trial a handgun found in a bag he was carrying when he was stopped in the high school by the principal, a Columbus police officer, and Robert Lindsey whose title was Whetstone “safety and security officer.” Lindsey isn’t a law enforcement officer. Polk claimed the gun was found during an illegal search prompted by Lindsey.

Lindsey was the sole witness at a suppression hearing conducted by the trial court. Lindsey testified that while on a school bus walk-through in February 2013, he noticed an unattended book bag. Lindsey opened the bag, saw some papers and notebooks, and an item with Polk’s name on it. He stated it was rumored that Polk was possibly in a gang, and he took the bag to the principal’s office. There he emptied the contents of the bag and found multiple bullets in it. Lindsey, the principal, and the police officer located Polk. The police officer put Polk in a hold, and Lindsey searched a bag in Polk’s possession, and located a gun in Polk’s bag.

Under questioning by the trial judge, Lindsey provided varying answers on the Whetstone search protocol and whether he intended to completely empty the bag as part of his standard procedure, or if he did so only because he suspected Polk was involved in a gang. Lindsey also first suggested the search of Polk happened within 20 minutes of discovering the bullets, but later said he couldn’t recall for sure if the search took place on the same day as the bag search.

In September 2014, the trial court granted the motion to suppress the gun, determining it was found during an illegal search. The judge ruled Lindsey’s first search of the bag was reasonable not only for safety and security reasons, but also to identify the bag’s owner. Once Lindsey ascertained the bag didn’t have a bomb or pose any threat, and he identified its owner, his original purpose of his search concluded. The judge found that Lindsey couldn’t empty the bag without “reasonable grounds” for suspecting the search would turn up evidence of a violation of a school rule or law. The judge concluded the second search was conducted solely on Polk’s reputation, and that information alone wasn’t reasonable grounds to conduct the second search. The discovery of the bullets during the second search led the school to search Polk and discover the gun. Since the second search was illegal, the gun was inadmissible as “fruit from the poisonous tree,” the court stated.

The Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney appealed the decision to the Tenth District Court of Appeals. In a divided decision, the Tenth District affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The appeals court agreed that Lindsey conducted two separate searches and the second search wasn’t reasonable. The Tenth District also rejected the prosecutor’s argument that, based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 New Jersey v. T.L.O., decision searches by school officials don’t have to meet the same Fourth Amendment standards for a search as a police officer must, and that the exclusionary rule doesn’t apply to school employees.

The dissenting judge in the Tenth District agreed the trial judge didn’t abuse his discretion when ruling the gun could be suppressed, but wrote that neither the U.S. Supreme Court in T.L.O. or any other case, nor the Ohio Supreme Court, have ruled that the exclusionary rule applies to school employees.

The prosecutor appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Date Published: March 2, 2017

 

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