Property owners and real estate developers should be encouraged by a recent Supreme Court of Ohio case arising out of a annexation dispute. Annexations have become highly politicized, and this ruling, Smith v. Granville Township Board of Trustees, reaffirms the public policy favoring annexation and severely restricts the ability of county commissioners to deny landowners annexation petitions.
During the last 30 years, the annexation into municipalities of undeveloped township property has become a legal battleground for property owners and township trustees. Boards of county commissioners have found themselves caught in the middle of these disputes because they are authorized by state statute to approve annexations in part on the basis of whether they are for the general good of the annexation territory.
Despite a 1974 Ohio Supreme Court ruling that public policy favors the annexation of land into municipalities, county commissioners have increasingly misinterpreted what constitutes the general good of the annexation territory.
In Smith, a property owner sought to annex 281 acres of vacant land in Granville Township adjacent to the city of Newark in Licking County. The landowner sought annexation because Newark could provide city services such as water, sewer, and fire and police protection that the township could not.
What makes this case monumental is the issue on which the court rulings turned: the potential overcrowding of the local public school district.
Even though the property would be annexed into Newark, homes built on the land would have remained in the Granville School District. The Licking County Court of Appeals upheld the denial of the annexation petition based solely on the assertion that the annexation could result in overcrowding of the Granville School District.
The Ohio Supreme Court saw it differently. In one of the most important decisions regarding annexation to come from the high court, Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, writing for the majority, ruled county commissioners cannot consider potential school overcrowding in determining the merit of an annexation petition.
Justice Stratton noted the State Board of Education has exclusive authority over any school-related issues that arise due to annexation and could decide to readjust school boundaries. The spirit and purpose of the annexation laws of Ohio, she wrote, are to encourage annexation to municipalities and to give weight to the requests of property owners relative to the governmental subdivision in which they desire their property to be located.
Why is the Supreme Courts ruling so important?
In Ohios school funding climate, failure to overturn the Court of Appeals ruling might have opened up a dangerous Pandoras box of opposition to future annexation and sensible real estate development.
Instead, the Supreme Court ruling was a victory for the rights of property owners to determine the political subdivision in which their land will be developed. The Court reaffirmed the intent of Ohio law that a landowners choice of political subdivision in which his or her property is located can be overridden only in very limited circumstances.
The ruling also encourages township trustees to be flexible and to take steps to accommodate new development, rather than spend limited township resources on protracted legal battles with landowners over annexation.
Bruce L. Ingram and Duke W. Thomas are partners at the Columbus law office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP. Vorys is one of the 100 largest law firms in the United States.
Perhaps the most important reason is to ensure compliance with the multitude of statutory and regulatory requirements. Second, a systematic and organized document retention plan enables employees to efficiently retrieve important business records, increasing productivity.
Finally, a strictly enforced document retention policy is essential when litigation arises because it enables the company to produce documents requested by the opposing party in an organized and timely manner.
An organized and enforced document retention policy also cuts down on the risk of harmful documents ending up in the hands of potential litigants by providing a mechanism for the destruction of documents upon expiration of the required retention period.
The statutes and administrative regulations which impose record retention requirements upon companies are virtually endless, covering almost every area of the law. For example, while a company's tax returns must be retained permanently, other tax records must be retained for only four years.
Federal employment statutes like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII and the Family Medical Leave Act all have records retention requirements ranging from one to three years.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has developed a lengthy Records Retention Schedule, which sets forth the appropriate retention period for SEC-related documents. The Environmental Protection Agency has also promulgated numerous document retention requirements, which are constantly changing and therefore require periodic review. And recently enacted laws like the PATRIOT Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act require compliance-related documents to be maintained for up to seven years.
These guidelines provide only a glimpse of common statutory and regulatory records retention requirements. It is easy to overlook one or more of these in the process of developing and implementing a legally sufficient records retention policy.
The following three steps are essential in maintaining a document retention plan that both ensures compliance with legal requirements and adequately deals with your company's specific business needs.
1. Compile a master document schedule. Each department should generate a schedule of the documents it regularly uses and the suggested retention periods based on the department's needs. These schedules should form the basis of the overall retention plan. The company should then compile a Master Document Schedule combining the departments.
2. Legal counsel should review the Master Document schedule to ensure the company is keeping documents as long as required by statute and administrative regulations. Counsel should also make sure the retention periods are sufficient based on other legal factors by considering statutes of limitations, limitations on tax assessment and other litigation concerns.
3. The document retention policy should be periodically reviewed and updated. Not only are statutory and regulatory requirements continually changing, a company's need for certain documents also changes. Thus, the Master Document Schedule must be periodically reviewed and updated to make sure it remains consistent with the company's business needs.
Determining the appropriate retention period for all documents generated and used by a company is difficult, considering the vast range of federal and state statutes and administrative regulations imposing mandatory retention periods. This task is made even more cumbersome because the retention requirements continually change and new ones emerge.
It is therefore important to seek legal advice to ensure that your company's document retention policy is current and consistent with the laws that relate to your company's area of business. Kevin R. Conners is a white collar criminal defense attorney with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP. Bethany R. Thomas is an associate with Vorys practicing in the litigation group. Reach them at (614) 464-6400 or www.vssp.com.