Kuhnle Brothers, Inc. v. County of Geauga

Decision Date07 January 1997
Docket NumberNo. 95-3758,95-3758
Citation103 F.3d 516
PartiesKUHNLE BROTHERS, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COUNTY OF GEAUGA, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

David M. Ondrey (argued and briefed), Thrasher, Dinsmore & Dolan, Chardon, OH, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Mark B. Marein (argued and briefed), Synenberg & Marein, Cleveland, OH, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: MERRITT, COLE, and GODBOLD, * Circuit Judges.

MERRITT, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff trucking company appeals from a district court order finding its § 1983 claims barred by the statute of limitations and granting summary judgment for the defendants. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the district court applied the wrong limitations period, and that the defendants' resolution barring through-truck traffic on certain roads worked an ongoing violation, so that the limitations period did not begin to run until the defendants lifted the ban. We find that the district court applied the correct limitations period, but that one of the asserted harms was ongoing for statute of limitations purposes. Therefore, we AFFIRM in part, REVERSE in part, and REMAND for further proceedings, although we assess double costs against plaintiff-appellant for improper conduct of counsel for reasons explained below.


Plaintiff Kuhnle Brothers, Inc. is a trucking company located and doing business in Geauga County, Ohio. Kuhnle regularly hauls material from the Munn Road Sand & Gravel quarry. Prior to May of 1989, Kuhnle's drivers relied primarily on Munn Road to access the quarry. In May of 1989, however, Kuhnle and defendant Geauga County entered a settlement agreement with respect to litigation that is not otherwise relevant to this appeal. Under the terms of the settlement, Kuhnle agreed to keep its trucks off of Munn Road (except for a short portion necessary to access the Munn Road quarry) and instead to instruct its drivers to approach the Munn Road quarry along either Auburn Road or State Route 44.

In January of 1990, Geauga County enacted Resolution 90-9, barring through truck traffic on several county roads--but not on the portion of Auburn Road mentioned in the settlement agreement. The County then filed a state court action seeking a declaratory judgment that barring through truck traffic on Auburn Road would not breach its settlement agreement with Kuhnle. Kuhnle filed a counterclaim challenging the validity of Resolution 90-9 under Ohio law as beyond the scope of the County's authority. The state trial court dismissed the County's declaratory judgment request, but upheld the validity of Resolution 90-9. Subsequently, a year and a half later (on August 20, 1991), Geauga County passed Resolution 91-87, banning through truck travel on Auburn Road, including the portion of Auburn Road specified in the May 1989 settlement agreement.

On June 1, 1992, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the state trial court, finding that the County was without authority to enact Resolution 90-9. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals on November 17, 1993. Geauga County Bd. of Comm'rs v. Munn Rd. Sand & Gravel, Inc., 67 Ohio St.3d 579, 621 N.E.2d 696 (1993).

Kuhnle filed the instant action in Ohio state court on May 13, 1994--more than two years after Geauga enacted Resolution 91-87, but less than two years after the County stopped enforcing Resolution 91-87 due to the June 1, 1992 Ohio Court of Appeals decision. The defendants removed the case to federal court. Kuhnle seeks monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Resolution 91-87 was invalid and that its enforcement violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and constituted an invalid taking of property without just compensation. 1 Kuhnle seeks monetary damages for the additional expenses incurred because Kuhnle was required to use alternate, longer routes to access the Munn Road quarry.

The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, holding that § 1983 actions arising in Ohio are subject to a two-year statute of limitations and that the limitations period began to run when Geauga County enacted Resolution 91-87.


Kuhnle raises two issues on appeal. First Kuhnle argues that because it originally filed its complaint in Ohio state court, then either the federal district court should have applied the four-year statute of limitations that the state court would have applied or else the district court should have remanded the case to state court. Second, Kuhnle argues that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the ongoing violation caused by the through-truck ban ceased when the County stopped enforcing the ban on June 1, 1992.

A. Limitations Period for § 1983 Actions Arising in Ohio

In Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985), the Supreme Court held that statutes of limitations for § 1983 actions are borrowed from state law, but that the question of how to characterize § 1983 actions to determine the most analogous state statute of limitations is a question of federal law. The Wilson Court determined that the proper limitations period for a § 1983 action is the limitations period for personal injury actions in the state in which the § 1983 claim arises. In Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 109 S.Ct. 573, 102 L.Ed.2d 594 (1989), the Supreme Court further clarified that when a state has multiple statutes of limitations for different categories of personal injury actions, the residual personal injury statute of limitations applies.

Following Wilson and Owens, this Circuit, sitting en banc, decided that the limitations period for § 1983 actions arising in Ohio is the two-year period found in Ohio Rev.Code § 2305.10. Browning v. Pendleton, 869 F.2d 989 (6th Cir.1989). In reaching this decision, the Browning court considered Ohio Rev.Code §§ 2305.10 & .11, but did not discuss § 2305.09(D). Since Browning, several Ohio courts of appeals have rejected Browning and applied § 2305.09(D)'s four-year statute of limitations to § 1983 actions. These courts include the Eleventh District Court of Appeals of Ohio, which has jurisdiction over appeals from the trial court in which Kuhnle originally filed its complaint. Bojac Corp. v. Kutevac, 64 Ohio App.3d 368, 581 N.E.2d 625 (1990).

Kuhnle argues that the federal district court should have applied the four-year statute of limitations because that is the statute of limitations that would have governed the action, pursuant to Bojac, if the defendants had not removed the case to federal court. The Bojac decision, however, is not binding on this Court. In fact, since Bojac was decided, this Court has ruled that Bojac does not alter the binding effect of the Browning precedent. LRL Properties v. Portage Metro Hous. Auth., 55 F.3d 1097, 1105 & n. 2 (6th Cir.1995). We are bound by LRL Properties, and thus hold that the district court acted correctly when it applied a two-year statute of limitations to Kuhnle's claims.

Kuhnle argues that if the district court was bound to apply the two-year statute of limitations, concerns of federalism and fairness dictate that the district court should have remanded the case to state court, rather than dismissing it. This argument ignores the Supreme Court's holding in Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. at 269-71, 105 S.Ct. at 1943-44, that the characterization of § 1983 claims for purposes of borrowing a state statute of limitations is a question of federal law. This is not a case in which there is substantive state law that differs from federal law. Rather, here there is a single correct statute of limitations under federal law that applies regardless of whether the action is brought in state or federal court. Notions of federalism do not require this court to follow a state court's holdings with respect to federal questions.

Nor will our holding on this issue cause any unfairness. There will be no Ohio plaintiffs who unfairly reap the rewards of a four-year statute of limitations, since defendants in § 1983 actions brought in Ohio will always be able to remove such actions to federal court. Kuhnle's argument that Ohio plaintiffs are "penalized" when they file § 1983 actions in state court within the state courts' four-year statute of limitations ignores the much greater "penalty" that defendants in such actions would suffer if their statutory right to remove such actions to federal court were effectively eliminated.

Kuhnle's reliance on Henry v. Metropolitan Sewer District, 922 F.2d 332 (6th Cir.1990), is misplaced. In Henry, this Court held that when district courts lack jurisdiction over § 1983 claims removed from state court because those claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, such claims should be remanded to the state court, rather than dismissed without prejudice. This result, however, is based on the fact that the Eleventh Amendment does not affect the jurisdiction of the state courts, so that such claims may be viable in their original forum. Here, however, when the correct, two-year statute of limitations is applied, Kuhnle's claims are barred whether they are brought in state or federal court. 2

B. Date of Onset of the Limitations Period

The date on which the statute of limitations begins to run in a § 1983 action is a question of federal law. Sevier v. Turner, 742 F.2d 262, 272 (6th Cir.1984). Ordinarily, the limitations period starts to run "when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of his action." Id. at 273. "In determining when the cause of action accrues in section 1983 actions, we have looked to what event should have alerted the typical lay person to protect his or her rights." Dixon v. Anderson, 928 F.2d 212, 215 (6th Cir.1991) (citing Conlin v. Blanchard, 890 F.2d 811, 815 (6th Cir.1989)).

Kuhnle claims that it began diverting its trucks onto alternate routes when Geauga enacted Resolution 91-87 in August of...

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