Ohio Woman Loses Suit Over Foliage Growing Near Stop Sign

By Denise Johnson | June 7, 2018

A woman suing an Ohio city over foliage growing in front of a stop sign that she says caused her to have an accident has lost her fight in the state Supreme Court.

According to court documents, Judith Pelletier was involved in an automobile crash on August 26,2013 in a northeastern Ohio city. She alleges she didn’t see a stop sign because of foliage overgrowth. Specifically, she referenced “trees or large bushes in the ‘devil strip’ – what the parties call the grassy area between Sanderson Avenue and the sidewalk – blocked it from her view.” As she neared the intersection, she didn’t stop, slow her speed or check for vehicles on the road she was about to cross. She collided with a vehicle that had the right of way.

Six months later, she filed suit against the city, Danny Saulsberry (the owner of the land with the foliage), the Bank of New York Mellon (which had initiated foreclosure proceedings on Saulsberry’s property), and Safeguard Properties, L.L.C. (the entity that contracted to maintain the property for the bank) claiming “the accident was caused by the city’s failure to maintain the ‘devil strip” of grass between the street and sidewalk to ensure the sign was visible to approaching traffic.”

Both the Bank of New York Mellon and Safeguard Properties, L.L.C. filed cross-claims against the city of Campbell for indemnification and contribution. The plaintiff eventually settled with Safeguard.

The city moved for summary judgment against the plaintiff and the bank, citing that it was immune from liability and further argued it had no duty to maintain the stop sign, nor that it was obstructed and finally noted that it had no notice of the foliage overgrowth.

The city’s motion for summary judgment was denied and the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The city appealed based on two theories:

  1. Because an “obstruction” for purposes of determining the immunity of a political subdivision in all claims which allege a negligent failure to maintain a “public road” is confined to a condition which blocks or clogs the roadway, roadside foliage which does not block or clog travel or render a traffic control device indiscernible does not qualify as an obstruction.
  2. “Failure to keep public roads in repair” pursuant to the immunity exception set forth in R.C. 2744.02(B)(3), requires that the actual public road be in a deteriorated, damaged or disassembled state from that existing at construction, placement, or reconstruction.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in favor of the city citing that the language of R.C. 2744.02(B)(3) is clear and unambiguous, indicating it must be “applied” versus “interpreted”. As such, the high court determined the stop sign was not in disrepair and “because there was no foliage to remove from the stop sign, the sign was not obstructed.” The court reversed the court of appeals judgment and remanded the matter back to the trial court to dismiss the claims against the city.

The case is Pelletier v. Campbell, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-2121. Read the slip opinion.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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