Privately Operated Prisons Remain Constitutional after Sutter O’Connell’s Recent Victory in the Ohio Supreme Court

Posted on February 16th, 2016 by sutteroconnell

Sutter O’Connell attorneys Adam Martin and Kevin Kita obtained a major victory in a recent Ohio Supreme Court case involving a challenge to Ohio’s long standing statute permitting the privatization of Ohio state prisons. The plaintiffs, a labor union representing Ohio public employees, a non-profit dedicated to progressive causes, and numerous prior employees, sought to invalidate Ohio’s contracts with two private companies that operate and manage prisons. The plaintiffs alleged the statute authorizing prison privatization was improperly included in Ohio’s budget bill and violated the Ohio Constitution.  The plaintiff also sought to have the employees working in Ohio prisons operated by private companies pursuant to contract with the state declared “public employees.”  Mr. Martin and Mr. Kita represented one of the defendants, a private corporation that operates correctional institutions.

At the trial court level, the defense team successfully obtained dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint. On appeal, the Ohio Tenth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision in part, but reversed the dismissal with respect to one of the constitutional issues and remanded to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing.  In response, the defense team successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.  Plaintiffs, too, sought relief, asking the high court to overturn the Tenth District’s unfavorable rulings against the plaintiffs. Alongside the Ohio State Solicitor and counsel for another prison management company, Mr. Martin and Mr. Kita presented their arguments to the Court.

In the end, the Supreme Court held in favor of Sutter O’Connell’s client on all issues. Specifically, the Court found that neither the subject state budget bill nor the prison-privatization provisions of the bill violate the Ohio Constitution.  Further, the State Employee Relations Board has jurisdiction to determine whether employees of privately operated prisons are public employees as defined by statute.

The text of the full opinion can be found here.